Peer Review in Canvas: Tool Quirks & Workarounds

In working with instructors more closely this term on implementing peer review in their new Canvas courses, we are starting to get a better sense of what issues and errors are most likely to crop up, and how to manage those. At the same time, we are learning about the quirks of the Peer Review tool in Canvas (what it works well for, and what it does not) and some situations in which going another direction might be preferable. This post will cover what we’ve learned recently, and share some tips and resources for designing peer review activities in Canvas (either with or without using the dedicated “Peer Review” tool).

Background Info

Our colleagues at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning have recently shared a couple of very helpful blog posts that I recommend you check out:

    • Leveraging Peer Feedback in an Online Environment: this post offers a broad overview of the benefits of peer review, as well as the pedagogical and logistical (i.e., classroom management) questions you should ask yourself early on, if you are thinking about using peer review in your course.
    • Utilizing Peer Feedback in Canvas: this post offers guidance on creating activities that use the Canvas Peer Review feature, as well as a helpful video that will walk you thorough the setup and distribution of Peer Review tasks to students.

As always, I also recommend you familiarize yourself with the relevant links from within the Canvas Instructor Guide, or at least know how to find them if/when you get stuck. In this case, the following pages will help, depending on if you are using the Peer Review tool as attached to an Assignment or a Discussion:

For Assignments:

For Discussions:

Important: Guidance for Students on using Canvas’ Peer Review Tool

The following links from within the Canvas Student Guide can be shared with your students to help your students navigate using the Peer Review tool in Canvas (I’d recommend posting them right within the description of your Peer Review activity) . Again, the directions differ a bit, depending on if you are using the Peer Review tool as attached to an Assignment or a Discussion:

For Assignments:

For Discussions:

Quirks of the Peer Review Tool in Canvas (and some reasons why another tool might be better)

There are a few odd things that pop up with using the Peer Review tool in Canvas that you should watch out for, and in some cases, might make it necessary for you to use a workaround, or use another tool altogether. Note the following:

    1. Peer reviews using the Canvas tool is a one-to-one experience. A student receives some work to review, and sends back their comments/feedback directly to the student who did that work (either with their names attached, or with a double-blind Anonymous setting). While this setup can be desirable, there are also other situations in which you want the peer review activity to be a more open, collegial, flexible, and interactive experience. In this way, students can benefit from seeing a wider array of student work and peer feedback, and also learn from each other how to give better feedback. Another tool (i.e., the Discussion board) would work better for that type of activity, particularly if the instructor wants a bit more freedom to jump into the Discussion and provide guidance along the way.
    2. When applied to Group Assignments, the peer review will only be assigned to individuals. As such, it doesn’t work for Group Assignments if you want 1 group to collectively or collaboratively review the work of another group.
    3. Peer reviews cannot be graded in any direct way. There is no direct way to grade the quality of a peer review or feedback that a student has provided, and any peer-given grade is not tallied into the Gradebook. You’d have to manually input something into the Canvas Gradebook for each peer review if you wanted to do either of these things.
    4. Peer reviews on late submissions must be manually assigned by the instructor. This is a bit of a pain, and one to plan for if you use the “Automatically Assign Peer Reviews” option when you are setting up the activity. Any student work submitted after the deadline won’t get assigned, so you’ll have to do it yourself. This also can mean (especially if you are only asking each student to do 1 review) that some students don’t get any peer reviews assigned to them! So it can be quite confusing for students, if the instructor doesn’t provide an explanation.
    5. There is a system delay for automatically assigned peer reviews. Eager students might complain that their assigned peer reviews aren’t showing up; tell them to expect to wait up to an hour.
    6. Peer reviews must be manually assigned for On Paper and No Submission assignment types. Something to watch out for if you are using an Assignment that was handed in in-class, or perhaps for Assignments based on oral or webinar presentations with no accompanying file or text submission.
    7. The External Tool submission type does not support peer review assignments. You’ll need a different tool or a workaround if using this submission type.
    8. The Canvas DocViewer does not support anonymous comments. It cannot be used for annotated feedback on assignments with anonymous peer reviews. You need to be OK with students showing their names to use this feature.
    9. Setting peer review due dates or To Do tasks in your students’ Canvas calendars is a bit finnicky. Unlike with a regular Assignment or Discussion (whose due date will appear in the students’ calendars), having calendar reminders show up with peer review tasks takes a bit more work. Best practices and a suggested workaround are outlined in this Peer Review Tips document from Canvas. As always, make sure your are communicating with your class and outline all important dates in your Syllabus.

Other Options: Peer Review without using Canvas’ Peer Review Tool

If anything in the previous information made you think “hmm, this Canvas Peer Review tool isn’t going to work for me,” the good news is that there are plenty of other ways to make peer review activities work in your course without it. Some examples:

    • Groups. Set up Groups for your students (2-5 students) in which they will be sharing work with each other. These groups can change over the term, or be used consistently to build more of a supportive team community or studio/critique atmosphere.
    • Discussions: Ask students to share their work (perhaps in a draft stage) via the Discussions, and comment on each other’s person’s submission to provide feedback. Especially when combined with Groups, this is quite manageable for students. A rubric or some other form of structure (e.g., a checklist) can be provided to guide the feedback a bit more.
    • Assignments. Ask students to use the Commenting feature in Word to annotate someone elses’ work and offer feedback. Or, give them a rubric / feedback form to fill out for the purposes of peer review (e.g., to complete following a classmate’s webinar presentation).
    • (Classic) Quizzes. These can be used to create a Survey that has students submit their feedback and/or peer review in a very targeted, structured way (e.g., Likert scale questions), or for more open-ended responses. A survey in this manner could also be built using your USask Survey Monkey account (although this would take a bit more work to track and/or grade the results). A survey is also not a terribly easy way to share feedback with the students who are being reviewed, but it could be manageable if you had a smaller class, or it was split into groups.

These tools might also be combined (e.g., using Groups with Discussions is a great way to have students give feedback to each other towards improving draft assignments). Generally, these tools in Canvas are malleable enough to make an approach that works well for your particular peer review plans, and still be easy for students to navigate.

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