Rescued by randomly rotating content

How to choose the BEST ONE?? (Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay)

If you have, like me, a little perfectionist streak, you can lose a lot of time trying to find the optimal combination of partners for peer reviewers among your students. I solved this issue a few years ago when I learned from Laura Gibbs how to use the “Rotate Content” tool to create random content on my websites and how to use it for peer review, and I think it may be useful for others, too!

In a short series of blog posts I will explain why I use this system (this post), how you set up your own random rotating content for online display (next week), and then finally how to tweak your WordPress page or post to display the content (the week after). It’s very easy, and you can do a lot more with randomly rotating content than assigning peer reviews.

If you find these posts useful, please let me know. And of course, both Laura and I would love to hear how you apply this nifty little piece of javascript!

Why bother using randomly assigned peer reviews?

Decision fatigue is real: it shows up in the classic study of deciding who gets parole, in the ER, and in analysis for financial forecasting, so why not in your teaching?

After all, “[decision fatigue] is discussed and explored by many professions who make multiple, high-complexity, rapid decisions with immediate and ongoing consequences.”1Dubash, Roxanne, Claire Bertenshaw, and James H Ho. “Decision Fatigue in the Emergency Department.” Emergency Medicine Australasia : Ema 32, no. 6 (2020): 1059–61. Sounds like grading, and if you’ve ever tried to get through the final part of a stack of papers at the end of the day, you know you’re assigning grades differently from when you’re starting fresh.

For those of us who venture into #Ungrading territory, we often still end up making a lot of decisions quickly, including: how to assign peer partners for review. I used to rely on Random Lists. Just plug in the student names from the Excel spreadsheet or the LMS and hey presto! Except… you have to check if students are signed up to review themselves, and it’s even worse if you want to have TWO peer reviewers. Of course the perfectionist in me wanted to balance things out: two weaker students should not review each other’s paper because that won’t help either, for instance. It was no faster, and it still left me fretting if I’d made the right combinations.

Trying to do this for weekly feedback on blog posts would be a total nightmare. Instead I now give them a random selection of three to four short posts, on a weekly basis. Students get exposed to different peer writers. If the random selection shows the same blog, or their own, they just need to refresh the page and a new selection shows. Students can always check out their favourite writers in the course blog stream (more about that in another series later this year).

This method takes 20 minutes maximum per class to set up, but I also get a chance to quickly check if the blogs are “according to spec” (image with caption included, word length, on topic), and saves me the agony of pairing up writers with reviewers. Fewer decisions = happier teacher! And it means I get more time to focus on what really matters to the students and me: qualitative feedback on their writing and research.

Next week: find out how to set up your “rotating content” as we venture into the file manager of your C-panel. It’s not as scary as it sounds, promised!

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