Effectively gathering and evaluating sources are important skills for students to learn. However, the activities can be solitary for the students, while the process and results are often invisible to the instructor until the research paper is submitted. Therese Novotny opens up this research process by having her Writing Seminar students review early drafts of each other’s annotated bibliographies. But when in-person, small group work became challenging during the pandemic, Novotny turned to a digital alternative—a pinboard website called Padlet—so her students could visually display their sources and help each other refine their research.
In previous semesters, Novotny’s students brought paper copies of their annotated bibliographies to class, and then worked in small groups to provide feedback about each other’s sources. This Fall instead, Novotny asked her students to set up their own boards on Padlet: their Padlets were organized into columns based on the role the sources would serve in their arguments (e.g. definition, background, etc.), and students attached, linked, or summarized their sources as different items on these boards, moving sources around while reflecting on where they fit best.
Once their bibliography was gathered, students posted links to their Padlets within a Canvas discussion where they gave each other feedback, replicating the peer review experience without needing to exchange papers or even be in class together. While students struggled to note citation errors in Padlet boards, Novotny said, “About half of the students did this task very well, and they asked specific questions of their peers.” They offered specific improvements and even noted “when certain voices or sources were missing in the peer’s Padlet.”
Novotny found Padlet had a positive impact on student work even before the peer review stage. For instance, after their first 20 sources were gathered, Novotny’s drafted a problem statement based on their initial research. Novotny noted that many students who had worked with Padlet “had nice transitions between their annotated bibliography and their drafts.” Noticeably, those who didn’t complete the Padlet bibliography struggled: “They had more trouble thinking about how to use their sources when drafting the problem statement,” Novotny said.
Overall, Novotny found Padlet useful in helping students work through the research process. While not a perfect substitute for a formal bibliography or real-time review, Padlet worked well as an organizational tool to help students collect, reflect, and comment not only on their own sources but on those of their peers as well.