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Reducing Volcanic Hazards to People and Property - An Assignment with Electronic Peer Review

Activity and Starting Point page by L.A. Guertin ( This site may be offline. ) , 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 an electronic peer review assignment, students write a general summary of major hazards to humans in the vicinity of volcanoes. Then, students are provided a list of volcanoes and must choose one to determine what actions they would take to minimize the risks to a population.

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Learning Goals

This exercise assists students in developing and communicating logical reasoning through writing. The electronic peer review provides students the opportunity to further enhance their critical thinking skills and some basic computer skills (such as emailing attachments). In addition, the topic of volcanic hazards to people and property is one that encourages students to connect natural processes 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 and the instructor only require access to a computer connected to the internet and email. The assignment can be given over a month period - two weeks for the students to write their papers, the last two weeks for the peer reviews to occur.

Teaching Materials

Provide students with the following assignment:
Reports indicate that an estimated one billion people live in volcanic hazard zones. With the rapid global population growth, urbanization, and economic development, the settlement around volcanoes will increase, thereby increasing the loss of human life and property during an eruption event. You will be writing a two-page paper that addresses volcanic hazards and their impacts. For the first page of your paper identify what are the major hazards to humans in the vicinity of volcanoes. For your second page, choose a volcano that is determined to be one of the most hazardous in the world. Make suggestions as to how to minimize the volcanic risk to the population. Be sure somewhere in your paper to include the significance (or lack of) volcanic research, such as eruption forecasting, to science and society. Your summary will be peer-reviewed by a fellow classmate.

When distributing this assignment to the students, it is helpful to them if they see the peer review sheet that will be used on their paper. An open-ended form will provide students the most constructive feedback. Instructors can create an online feedback form with these questions for students to submit their reviews as another option.

Students should type their paper using MS Word and NOT include their name anywhere in the text. Tell students to use their last name as the file name, then email you the file. If faculty do not wish to conceal student identity from one another, then the faculty member can forward on the papers to another student. For anonymity, faculty can rename the files before forwarding the email attachment. To simplify distributing the files for peer review, an instructor may want to consider having two students read each other's papers.

When a student concludes their electronic peer review, they should save the file and send as an attachment back to the instructor. The instructor can then review the comments and send the file on to the original student writer.

Volcano list: the following is a list of volcanoes you may want to have students choose from. These volcanoes are considered major threats because of their explosive histories and proximity to large population centers: Mt. Vesuvius (Italy), Popocatepetl (Mexico), Ulawun (Papua New Guinea), Merapi (Indonesia), Nyiragongo (DR Congo), Unzen (Japan), Sakura-jima (Japan), Galeras (Columbia).

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • Be sure students are clear with the assignment instructions - both for completing the written assignment and conducting the peer review. You may want to complete a mock peer review in the classroom before giving this assignment.
  • Give students enough time to complete the assignment.
  • Decide whether you want students to reveal their identities to each other for the peer review or remain in anonymity. This will decide if you need to rename files before you send them on for peer review.
  • Save the student files in a folder on your computer that is not in your email attachments folder. This way, the assignments will be easy to find and review.


Assessment is conducted by the students using a problem-solving open-ended form. An instructor can decide if the peer review is the final grade for the assignment, or if the instructor uses the same form and averages the two grades. However, keep in mind that one of the advantages of doing electronic peer review is that it saves the instructor time by not having to grade papers.

References and Resources