Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

What are the responsibilities of anyone assuming the role of a reviewer?

The role of the reviewer should be clearly defined by the faculty member in charge, based on the purpose and objectives of the course, project and specific review. In essence, the reviewer should use her/his expertise to help the faculty member meet the course and project objectives through critical and constructive feedback of student work. To do this effectively, the reviewer should:

  • Carefully listen to the presentation.  Withhold comments, questions, feedback and evaluation until they have carefully examined the work and listened to the complete presentation.  This means that it is not appropriate to interrupt a student. Some faculty members suggest to their reviewers that they take a few minutes to reflect on both what the student said and the project before beginning their comment/conversation.
  • Evaluate the work, not the student.  Make comments, suggestions, criticism and compliments specific to the work.  In other words, it is more effective if your feedback does not begin with “you didn’t accomplish . . . ” but rather uses language like “this design doesn’t accomplish . . . “ or “this piece lacks . . .”
  • Make sure to address students at the appropriate level.  For example, first year students are less knowledgeable than forth or fifth year students, and do not yet have the concepts or language that they will develop throughout the curriculum. It is sometimes difficult for reviewers, both faculty who do not teach first year students and practitioners, to remember what they knew and could do when they were first year students.
  • [For external reviewers] Know and abide by the “ground rules” for appropriate discussion and feedback. For example,
  • Should the reviewer talk to the student, the class or other reviewers?
  • Is it appropriate for reviewers to debate or challenge each other’s comments? Build on each other’s comments?
  • Should the reviewer provide both positive feedback as well as feedback on what isn’t working? Students can learn just as much from what they’ve “done right,” with an added value that it builds their confidence in certain aspects of their work. However, reviewers frequently have a tendency to focus on and emphasize the negative aspects of a project and fail to leverage the positive features when making recommendations.
  • Should the reviewer balance questions with comments during the review to get students to be reflective about what they did, why they did it, etc.? This is particularly important if your goals include helping students learn to be reflective about their work and to become better at extemporaneously responding to questions about their work.
  • Are there time limits for initial responses to students’ work?

Think about how you ask questions because questions are an important pedagogical tool to help students reflect on, interpret, evaluate, extend or articulate what they’ve done.  How a question is asked (e.g., tone, word choice, positive/negative framing) can potentially scare, embarrass, alienate or put students on the defensive. For example:

  • A challenge question can help students to broaden their perspective and thus serves a valuable intellectual function. However, if not phrased carefully, and depending on tone, students can interpret this type of question as an indication of disapproval or dislike of their work, and thus become defensive.
  • An exploratory question can probe students to articulate their process or the rationale for a decision they’ve made. However, if asked poorly, it can result in students becoming embarrassed if they believe you are questioning the appropriateness of a decision they’ve made or process they’ve used.
  • A hypothetical question can get students to think about variations on what they’ve done. However, students new to the review process can easily be confused by such a question because the hypothetical situation was not part of the criteria for the project. These types of questions can help prepare students for the unexpected situations that often arise in professional practice.
  • A contextualizing question asks students to situate their solution or design within the appropriate concepts, theories, principles, etc. This forces students to connect theory to practice, an important part of the intellectual process. However, students new to the review process may not see the relevance of this type of question until they are sophisticated enough to reflect on and recognize the role of theory and concepts in their own process.