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Human Impacts on Sharks: Developing an Essay Through Peer-Review on a Discussion Board

Activity based on Examining a Potential Paper Topic from the Northern Illinois University English Department. Assignment modified and Starting Point page byL.A. Guertin, Penn State Delaware County, Earth Science.
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Through computer technology, students develop a paper topic (in this case, the human impacts on sharks) that is peer reviewed by additional students answering guided questions. The original student must respond to the comments by the fellow classmates. All of the communication is conducted through an electronic discussion board.

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Learning Goals

This exercise assists students in developing electronic communication skills through a discussion board. The electronic peer review of the paper topic provides students the opportunity provide constructive feedback. In addition, the topic of human impacts on sharks is one that encourages students to connect human actions in the natural environment with societal values and priorities.

Context for Use

This exercise should be given as an assignment outside of class with technology facilitating the procedure. Students only require access to a computer connected to the internet and a discussion board program (such as ones found in WebCT and Blackboard). The assignment can be given over a one-day or up to a two-week period. The instructor can log in to the discussion board to review the live electronic exchange of comments or final responses.

Teaching Materials

Provide students with the following assignment:
You will be writing a paper on human actions impacting natural shark populations. You will be choosing one particular current issue with sharks and humans (shark finning and the demand for shark meat as food, overfishing of sharks, humans swimming in coastal waters where shark attacks can occur, etc.) and documenting these actions and the impact on science and society. Before writing an essay on your shark subject, you will further develop your topic with the assistance of two of your peers through an electronic discussion board. Enter the discussion board and answer the following questions (be sure to be as complete as possible so that your peers can do a thorough assessment).
  • What is the concept relating to humans and sharks you will explain in your paper?
  • Who is your intended reader?
  • What particular aspect of human actions and sharks will you focus on?
  • What will your main point be?
  • How will you explain sharks, humans, and have your essay understandable and interesting?

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • Be sure students are clear with the assignment instructions - for both the paper topic development and peer review.
  • Give students enough time to complete the assignment.
  • You may want to set up the discussion board so that only the three students participating in this activity have access to the paper topic and comments.
  • Decide whether you want students to review fellow students working on a similar paper topic or a topic that is very different. Having students reviewing vastly different subjects from their own paper topic can be valuable in expanding the information the student is exposed to.
  • Make sure the discussion board is saved so that the original student writer will be able to go back and review the critique.


Assessment is conducted by the students in the discussion board. After the student has answered the questions relating to his/her paper topic, the first peer reviewer enters the same discussion board, reads the answers to the questions, then types responses to a new set of questions. The instructor should remind the peer reviewers that their feedback is to assist the student writer in the appropriateness of the topic and the approach to the topic.
Student Reviewer #1
  • Does this paper topic and approach sound interesting to you? If yes, in what way? If no, explain what isn't interesting about it.
  • Would you care to read more about this topic? If yes, what would you like to find out?
  • What, if anything, do you already know about humans impacting the natural shark populations?

A second student then conducts a peer review of the same topic of the proposed invasive species paper.
Student Reviewer #2
  • Does this paper topic and approach sound interesting to you? If yes, in what way? If no, explain what isn't interesting about it.
  • Would you care to read more about this topic? If yes, what would you like to find out?
  • What, if anything, do you already know about humans impacting the natural shark population?
  • Do you and the first Student Reviewer tend to agree about the topic? Explain the reasons for your agreement or disagreement.
  • Do you think that your response and the response from the other Student Reviewer fairly reflect what most readers will think/feel about humans impacting sharks? Explain as best you can.

The original student author of the invasive species paper topic is then required to review the peer comments and respond in the discussion board to the following questions.
Original Student Writer
  • Considering the comments, how confident do you feel writing about this topic of humans impacting sharks? Explain.
  • Which, if any, of the comments surprised you?
  • Do the comments make you consider a new approach in any way? Explain why.
  • Considering how much your classmates know (or don't know) about the topic, how much explaining will you need to do in your essay?

References and Resources

Original assignment: Examining a Potential Paper Topic from Northern Illinois University's English Department.

Human-Shark resources

NOAA Fisheries Shark Web Site (more info)

International Shark Attack File (more info)

The Center for Shark Research (more info)

National Geographic News: Sharks (more info)


Biology:Ecology, Geoscience:Oceanography:Physical , Environmental Science:Ecosystems:Ecology

Resource Type

Activities:Writing Assignment, Assessments:Peer Assessment

Special Interest

Online Course or Activity

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Ready for Use

Ready to Use

Earth System Topics

Biosphere, Ecology


Human Dimensions/Resources, Ocean:Physical Oceanography, Biosphere


Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Oceanography, Environmental Science