Faculty Experiences - Arlene Russell

Arlene Russell - photo interviewARLENE RUSSELL

Chemistry and Biochemistry

Interview Topics

What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

How could the University better facilitate the use of technology in instruction?


Assessing student performance

Critical thinking

Peer review


Calibrated Peer Review (CPR)(project)

Teaching Critical Thinking through Peer Review

We wanted students to take advantage of learning how to evaluate, because that’s a high level thinking skill, and its part of the process of science.

My late colleague Orville Chatman and I tried to figure out how we could put writing in the classroom. We wanted students to take advantage of learning how to evaluate, because that’s a high level thinking skill, and its part of the process of science. The Calibrated Peer Review program is a comprehensive instructional tool that allows students to learn the material by writing about it and gain an understanding through articulation. They also develop critical thinking skills by reviewing and evaluating others’ work. It’s a web-based instructional tool that manages the writing and reviewing process. Because it’s online it can handle any size class. Nationally people with large classes have adopted this because it’s the only feasible way to put this kind of high-level critical thinking tool into many students’ hands.

How does the CPR process work? An instructor picks an assignment from an important course topic and students write about it. After students have written about the particular topic, they learn the important aspects of the problems—they have to be calibrated to be a reviewer of that topic. The calibration is the training of the students to be reviewers and experts in the topic. After the students have gone through the calibration process, they receive three anonymous essays from their peers. The students review these essays using the same criteria they’ve learned from their grading and evaluation training. In the final step students receive their own essay back to evaluate. Self assessment is very difficult—but if you understand the material at the end of the assignment, it doesn’t really matter that you didn’t understand it when you originally wrote it, because now you do. All of our studies show that on topics that have been studied using CPR students do approximately 10% better than on topics that are not covered with writing and reviewing assignments.

We started CPR in Chemistry, but it has moved broadly into many disciplines. The Life Science I course here at UCLA gives an extra unit of credit because of the work involved in writing four assignments on main themes of the course. We have just completed a review of that program. Writing skills and reviewing skills as well as self-assessment scores improved. And the most gains were from the weakest students. Nationally over six hundred institutions have used CPR. It’s been used in over 2500 courses. Over one hundred thousand students have used CPR.

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