“Nice work, I agree with you”: How do I teach undergraduate learners to respond critically to their peers?

“I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” ~ Albert Einstein

I strongly believe that the process of educating an individual should include the development of the learners unique perspective, given the context of their lived experiences, informed through wrestling with conflicting and controversial points of view. For this reason, it ails my heart to read shallow responses from a learner to their peer. This has led me on a personal quest to gather ideas that might elicit learner responses to their peers that reflect the application of course objectives in my fully online course. To date, I’ve internalized the importance of asking good open-ended questions, suggesting a response format, and assigning learners to response peer groups. Now, I am concerned with how to teach the required peer response elements. The next time I teach my course, I am considering the use of a rubric with the following three required peer response elements:

Acknowledge an aspect of the author’s post.

Agree, disagree, or pose a thought for consideration.

Share your view or thought within the context of assigned readings or other sources.

My thought at this moment is to color code the attributes of the required elements within a model response, such as the one below:

“Mayra – I partially agree with you. This show [South Park] is definitely explicit and is in no way shape or form something any child should view but I do enjoy this show for myself. Yes they bad mouth various members of society and even poke at anything they can poke fun at but in subtle ways it can be a smart show towards things about society, the brain, science, etc. and it allows engages more intellectual viewers to research and look up why a certain portrayal is made in their show. Recently I watched this episode: http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s09e12-trapped-in-the-closet, and it actually informed me about the beliefs of Scientology down to the wire. At first I didn’t believe it but after researching it South Park did a fantastic job of capturing the Scientology faith which I knew very little about. But as you said they do bad mouth people and they do so in this episode with Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and R. Kelly calling them homosexuals.” (If the color coding is not visible, click here.)

Is providing a model response enough? Would adult undergraduate learners be insulted by the use of color codes as a teaching technique? I can imagine reading a comment on my course evaluation that says, “… the instructor color coded directions as if we were kindergarteners.” While it is never my intention to insult the intelligence of learners, it is critical to teach the expectation upon which their work will be evaluated. For many learners, simply providing a rubric hasn’t produced learner responses to peers that indicate an informed opinion on a given topic. What more could I do to teach the rubric elements that I want to see in a learners response to their peers?