Deal With Problems - Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

What are the challenges, problems and things that can go wrong in a public review?

The previous sections proactively address a number of issues that often cause problems in public reviews. Hopefully our thoughtful attention to goals, roles and responsibilities, and preparation of students and reviewers will minimize problems. However, even the most thoughtful preparation may not completely eliminate difficulties. So, be prepared to deal with:

Students who may

  • become defensive, argumentative, or emotionally upset. All of these reactions interfere with the amount and quality of learning that takes place. It may also set an uncomfortable or negative tone for the rest of the review. In part this is why we need to prepare students for the review in advance <link>
  • "freeze" due to nervousness and hence not provide a strong introduction to their work, not respond to questions adequately or at all, etc. This is why modeling and practice are important: students can learn by watching upperclassmen in similar situations, and by practicing with peers in their own class.
  • not understand that content, appearance and presentation are all important in successfully presenting their work. As a consequence, students may complain about "unfair" evaluation because peers whose work is less substantial end up "stealing the show" because of their visuals and/or presentation skills. Conversely, students with great designs can be graded more harshly because they lack the communication skills to effectively discuss their work.
  • work right up to the final deadline and be stressed by their inability to access shop equipment, printers, computers, etc.

Reviewers who may

  • go down the wrong path, for example, commenting on things that were not part of the assignment, reminiscing about their own work, etc. While this may be interesting and even educational, the question of relevance is important given the time constraints under which reviews are held.
  • show up late or not show up at all.
  • be argumentative, too blunt, too negative, inattentive, etc.
  • misunderstand your goals for the assignment/project, and not reinforce them. For example, if you want students to take risks, go out on a limb, etc., the reviewers need to applaud that exploration even when they are dissatisfied with the final solution.
  • subscribe to the philosophy that "trail-by-fire" is a valuable pedagogical technique and be overly harsh in their reviews.

Administrators who may

  • not provide sufficient resources to allow us to invite external reviewers of high quality to final reviews.
  • not provide review space with sufficient acoustic and functional privacy to conduct a review without spurious interruptions and concentration of participants. There is merit to publicly accessible yet well focused settings.