COS 58-5
The writing of a simulated scientific paper using a peer-review approach

Wednesday, August 7, 2013: 9:20 AM
L100F, Minneapolis Convention Center
Ivana Stehlik, Biological Sciences, University of Toronto at Scarborough, Toronto, ON, Canada

University instructors seek to teach students critical thinking, scientific literacy and writing skills. My proposed assignment elegantly combines these tasks in a challenging and student-centered fashion. For any given class topic, three original publications (A, B, C) are chosen as the basis for writing a “simulated” research paper. From each paper, key figures and tables are extracted and any reference to authors, location or species is removed. What remains is an outline describing the study’s general setting, methodology and basic species’ biology, so that students can understand how the research was done; however, removing other details makes it difficult to find the paper online. Also, students are given (a) question(s) connected to the dataset. A third of the class writes on datasets A, B and C, respectively. A student working on dataset A is then matched with one student each of data sets B and C to form peer review groups. Students write drafts, submit and receive these to and from their two peers within their peer group, comment on each others’ drafts first at home and then, by bringing their comments to class,  in a peer exercise during tutorial time. In a last step, they submit the final version.


This approach has benefits on several levels. (1) Students write a paper based on a high-quality dataset. (2) Students analyze not just their own specific dataset, but also those of their two peers. This allows the enforcement of three instead of just one topic.  (3) To develop writing skills, students apply writing instructions not just for their own draft but also when acting as reviewers for their peers’ drafts. (4) Because students exchange comments on their papers verbally within their peer groups, individual group members benefit from both the feedback to their own drafts and also from those of their peers. This somewhat offsets poor feedback provided by a weak student to a strong student. (5) The prospect of small-group feedback during tutorial time and hence peer pressure motivates students to take their role as providers of peer feedback seriously. (6) Because each data set is represented only once per peer review group, there is no danger of plagiarism. (7) The need for tight scaffolding of this assignment prevents students from writing their assignment last minute, improving the paper’s overall quality. (8) Through group work, students learn important social skills which are only rarely fostered during undergraduate assignments at universities.