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Discussing writing: peer feedback on writing essays in an online forum for learners of English

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Enda Tuomey
Publication date06/2014
Number of pages273
Awarding Institution
Place of PublicationLancaster
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This case study investigated feedback, interaction, and knowledge creation in an asynchronous discussion forum in which learners of English provided peer feedback on short argument essays for the IELTS test, a gatekeeper English exam used for immigration or university entrance. Over eleven months, a small but active group of intermediate and advanced learners from many countries changed participation from seeking feedback to giving complex macro-level feedback on each other’s writing, changing their perceptions of peer editing and improving their own writing, while a much larger group engaged primarily in lurking.
The research was exploratory at first, since it was not known whether learners would join or provide feedback, but as members joined, peer feedback loops and varying patterns of interaction emerged. To investigate these processes, both content and structure were examined, with forum posts examined using thematic units as the unit of analysis, and server logs providing structural data such as membership duration and posting patterns. Semi-structured interviews were carried out to gain further insight into member perceptions.
Feedback was viewed as a process with benefits for both givers and receivers, rather than as a product given by an expert. Lurking was a key form of participation for both active and less-active members, while changes in roles and participation were mainly associated with longer membership and more feedback.
Because of the informal learning setting and high turnover, models from outside educational settings were used as theoretical lenses: organizational citizenship (Bateman & Organ, 1983) and organizational commitment (Meyer & Allen, 1991), to investigate roles and behavior; and Nonaka’s SECI framework (1994), to examine knowledge conversion and creation. Applying citizenship behavior to online settings posed problems due to the difficulty of distinguishing between discretionary or supra-role behavior and the core intent of a knowledge community. In contrast, a modified SECI framework appeared to be a useful metaphor, emphasizing peer feedback as socially-constructed knowledge.