Students used a platform called Open Review (www.openrev.org), developed by the members of the Harvard physics department, which is a PDF annotation tool that is tailored to discuss scientific publications openly. Every week, students read two publications related to research in the Harvard Physics Department and used Open Review to discuss them online and learn about the academic research.
During the weekly Monday sessions, two students presented topics from the papers and the whole class engaged in a Q&A session, usually with a postdoc from the field.
Throughout the semester the staff made the following observations:
1. From the discussion on Open Review it was very easy to see if the students read the papers and to what extent they engaged in the discussion.
2. The quality of the comments and questions was high in general. Some comments contained links to relevant online reading material, others contained explanations of technical terms and a good fraction were related to details of the presented research.
3. It seemed that most of the students were well-prepared when coming to class and the online comments seemed to initiate the in-class discussion most of the time.
4. In general, it was the seniors who replied to their peers questions online, and later in the semester most of questions had at least one reply.
5. The students made some 550 comments on 27 research papers throughout the semester.
6. Almost all of the students decided to use their real names instead of aliases, despite knowing that all the comments will be public. In fact, one student asked to have his alias changed to his real name during the semester noting that he wouldn't be afraid having his name associated with his comments.
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