How Can Role-Playing Improve Peer-To-Peer Feedback?

This is a guest post by Boise State professor, Yu-Hui Ching.

I am an assistant professor of Educational Technology at Boise State University. I have been using VoiceThread for discussions and ice-breaking activities in my online courses for two years. My students and I enjoy VoiceThread because we can see and hear each other, which helps us build a more connected learning community.

In my recently published research article, I tackled a problem that concerns many online instructors – how to guide students to provide quality peer feedback. Peer evaluation is a very useful formative assessment strategy (i.e., soliciting feedback while the course is in session) that has been used extensively in our graduate online courses. In such activities, students will typically share a draft of their assignment, and provide feedback to assist in improving the quality of the work of their peers. Ideally, I would like students to provide constructive feedback, but in reality, without support from the instructor, many students only provide comments at a superficial level, such as, “Great job!” or “I agree with you.” Previous research has found that not all students are capable of providing quality feedback due to various reasons. Some students lack the needed domain knowledge to evaluate the work of their peers, while others feel anxious as they don’t want to appear to be overly critical.

In this research study, role-playing was used as an innovative strategy to help scaffold the process of providing peer feedback. This research was situated in a case study activity where students were asked to analyze a complex case scenario related to the subject matter of Instructional Design. They created an audio/video presentation to showcase their analysis of the case, and shared the presentation with the class. Students were then asked to take on the role of a stakeholder in the case scenario and comment on their peers’ analysis based on the stakeholder’s perspective.


For example, in a case situated in an elementary school setting, many learners chose the associate principal’s role from which to construct their feedback. Students were further guided to address two questions: (1) How does the analysis address your existing (the stakeholder’s) concerns and/or needs? (2) What are some concerns you may have toward the analysis (and the solutions if there are any)? At the end of the activity, students revised their analysis of the case based on peer feedback and then submitted the assignment for a grade.

How did VoiceThread come into play? Because it is very easy to use and it allows multimedia presentation as well as audio/video comments, VoiceThread was selected as the discussion interface for this collaborative activity. Thanks to the audio/video comment sharing function, some students became quite engaged in the role-playing and tried to use different voices to reflect the characters of the role they played.

The research findings revealed potential positive impact of role-playing on learners’ generation of constructive feedback. With the role-playing strategy, students identified more problems in the work of their peers, when compared to those who responded to peers without playing a role. As revealed in my survey results, 60% of learners perceived the role-play strategy as useful in assisting them in composing and providing meaningful feedback. Overall, 90% of learners reported peer feedback useful or somewhat useful. Some students reported that when playing a role, they were able to provide more focused feedback because they only needed to comment from one perspective. In addition, they felt role-playing helped relieve the feeling of criticizing or attacking their peers because they spoke from the role of the stakeholder.


Personally, I think the most interesting finding from my study is that the role-playing strategy alleviated students’ anxiety when critiquing peers’ work. Overcoming affective barriers, students were able to identify problems and concerns in peer analysis, which demonstrates the use of higher-order thinking – critical and evaluative thinking, in particular. Although not reported in this study, students and the instructor also recognized VoiceThread as a user-friendly and versatile virtual interface that empowers learners through meaningful and authentic asynchronous collaborative experiences.

If you are interested in reading more about this research, here is the link to the full-text article: “Exploring the Impact of Role-Playing on Peer Feedback in an Online Case-Based Learning Activity”.

Finally, here is a link to another VoiceThread study: Collaborative learning using VoiceThread in an online graduate course.

Yu-Hui Ching earned a Ph.D. in Instructional Systems and her focus is on Instructional Design, Educational Technology and Learning. You can follow her on twitter at @ChingBSU.