Improving students’ argumentative essay writing through supported online peer feedback

Published on
May 15, 2020

Dr. Omid Noroozi as the project leader and Dr. Harm Biemans as the senior advisor from Wageningen University and Research (WUR) received a grant (sum of 200.000.00 Euros) from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science in cooperation with WUR to improve students’ argumentative essay writing through supported online peer feedback. This competitive grant was granted by SURF under the online education pilar.

The summary of the project is as follows:
“Writing essays is a common activity for higher education students. Students at all universities must be trained to become capable and qualified professionals, who can analyse, conceptualize, synthesize, and write essays and opinion papers in their own disciplines. Writing argumentative essays is important for students to deal with today’s complex issues and actively participate in the knowledge society. Teachers often consider the quality of students' essays to be rather low. The reason is that writing essays requires deep and elaborative cognitive processing for inclusion of solid argumentation strategies and reasoning. Students often fail to follow these argumentation strategies in their essays. Providing detailed feedback on students' written essays is not feasible for teaching staff especially when class size increases. Peer feedback is a prominent instructional practice that teachers use to enhance both quality of students' essays, their motivation, and their learning. Scientific and practical evidence reveal that peer feedback typically remains at the surface level and lacks well-founded arguments for promoting critical thinking, deep and elaborative learning. So, additional support is needed to fully attain potentials of peer feedback strategies for writing quality essays. In this project, the aim to design a "supported online peer feedback tool" where students with authentic essay writing tasks engage in reflective criticism of the work and/or performance of their peers using given criteria. The supported online peer feedback tool allows students to provide structured feedback to their peers' essays reciprocally based on characteristics of a high-quality argumentative essay.
This project aims to encourage students to actively participate in critical argumentation, debate and dialogue of the topics of their own field by means of writing essays and opinion papers.”

The tool will be implemented and evaluated in various BSc and MSc programs in different domains. These courses are chosen in such a way that the Beta domain (Atmosphere-Vegetation-Soil Interactions), Gamma domain (Environmental Economics and Environmental Policy), Beta-Gamma domain (Dilemmas in Food Safety and Security) and General Skills domain (Academic Argumentation in Scientific Writing and Debate) are covered. In this way, the usability of our approach can be implemented and evaluated in a broad context. Such large samples with diverse disciplines and study programs would enable us to understand the extent to which we can expand the outcomes of this project to other courses at WUR and other Dutch universities which deal with controversial issues and complex problems.

The outcomes of this project will not only help students but also teachers who are nowadays more and more overloaded with different tasks and teaching duties while the number of students has rapidly increased. Providing detailed feedback on students’ written essays would be challenging for teaching staff especially when class size increases, teachers become overloaded and possibilities for teacher-student interaction diminish. With this project, we aim to help teachers who do not have time to provide detailed and elaborated feedback to each student’ essay.

This project will be carried out within two years (from September 2020 up to September 2022). All the scholars and teachers who are interested in this project and would like to incorporate our ideas in their courses are kindly invited to contact me (