Peer review, a collaborative learning tool that emerged in the 1980s as a response to the failure of traditional writing pedagogy to meet the demands of students hitherto excluded from higher education (Bruffee; Trimbur), is intended to help students cultivate a sense of authority over the texts they produce and to support them as they position themselves as members of scholarly or professional communities. Yet questions about equity in peer review remain vexing: Does peer review, which remains widespread in the writing classroom, work as intended for all students, or can it reproduce the same hierarchies and systems of oppression that it seeks to destabilize?

In my dissertation, Ideologies of Language, Authority, and Disability in College Writing Peer Review, I intervene in the long-standing assumption that collaborative learning pedagogies, such as peer review, can empower students by decentering instructor authority and helping students claim authority over the texts they produce. Using qualitative data from two sections of first-year composition at a diverse regional university, I explore the role of difference in peer review groups. I argue that for multilingual students and students who identify as disabled, peer review can become an inequitable space that de-authorizes rather than authorizes them as writers and peer reviewers. I conclude that more inclusive models of peer review, which I also analyze, allow students to claim a non-hierarchical power in the real-time exchanges of classroom discourse. My data include:

  • 43 hours of interviews, including 11 focal students interviewed three times over the course of the semester
  • 33 hours of peer review audio-recordings
  • Semester-long ethnographic observations
  • All student writing, including drafts, finals, and peer review materials
  • Instructor feedback on student work

Because empirical research on peer review has declined significantly since the 1990s, questions about its effectiveness as a tool to empower students and improve writing remain largely unaddressed. If, as my research suggests, peer review is not working as intended, it is important to revisit it by focusing on equity, a focus that brings my work into conversation with current scholarship in language rights, disability studies, and antiracist theory. My research provides a point of departure for new studies of collaborative learning that will be useful as the field of English Studies continues to explore methods for enacting socially just and effective writing pedagogy.

On a personal note, I’m grateful to my dissertation co-chairs, Anne Ruggles Gere and Anne Curzan, for their feedback and support. My committee members, Camille Wilson and Krista Ratcliffe, have also been invaluable!