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Tools for Asynchronous Learning

This guide contains information for conducting class activities at a distance or online. It provides some information on platform privacy, and some sample assignments for last-minute transitions to distance learning.

Peer Review with GitHub


If you would normally do in-class review of paper drafts, you could use a service like GitHub to conduct peer critique and evaluation for written assignments. Students can create “tickets” that address some changes they think would benefit the paper. The original author can then use the ticket message thread to communicate with the reviewer about how the change could be implemented. Tickets are “closed” once the critique is addressed or the original author provides a reasoning behind why they are not addressing the critique.


Students will use this assignment to critique the writing of other students and make revisions to their own writing. Students will learn how to constructively comment on areas of improvement for other students’ writing. They will also learn how to defend their choices and incorporate feedback from other students.



  1. Have students create a GitHub Account at
  2. Once they are logged in, have them create a new repository, by clicking on the “+” in the upper right hand corner.
    1. Give the repository a name (with no spaces!).
    2. They can select “Public” or “Private” (if “Private” is selected, students will need to manually give you and their peer reviewers access).
    3. **IMPORTANT!** Unless your students are very tech savvy, make sure they select “Initialize this repository with a README.”

Authoring papers

  1. The students should then author their papers in markdown. Markdown is a simple way of formatting documents, and if you use tools like Pandoc, it can easily be transformed into .docx, .pdf, .html and other formats. A good tutorial on Markdown and Pandoc can be found at the Programming Historian.
    1. Once the students have authored their documents in Markdown, have them put the files into the GitHub repository. The simplest way of accomplishing this is by selecting “create new file” on the repository’s main page (see figure 1.). They should then copy the markdown content into the body of the file. Students should name the file in GitHub’s system if they want it to be published as a webpage.
    2. Once students have added their files to GitHub, they should provide a short description of the change (e.g. “added file), ensure “commit directly to the master branch” is selected and hit “commit changes” (see figure 2.)
Figure 1. The repository homepage

An image showing the main repository page

Figure 2. Committing changes

A demonstration of how to commit changes

Peer Review

  1. Assign peer review groups of 2-4 people
  2. Ensure that all peer review groups have access to each other’s repositories (especially if the repository is private). You can add collaborate and view access to private repositories under “Settings > Manage Access”
  3. Have the whole class or individual groups come up with a taxonomy of types of critiques, such as:
    1. Argument
    2. Grammar and spelling
    3. Clarity
    4. Citation
    5. Organization
  1. Students will read each other’s papers and come up with a series of critiques of each other’s papers.
  2. Once the critiques are established, students should navigate to the “Issues” tab on the repository page (see figure 3), and select “New Issue.”
  3. For each critique, they should open a new issue with a descriptive name, and a comment describing the critique. They can then add labels to the ticket, using the agreed-upon taxonomy mentioned in 3.2. See figure 4 for what a ticket could look like.
  4. Once all students have submitted tickets to the classmates they were selected to peer review, they can begin addressing the tickets opened about their work. Each ticket allows the author to communicate with the person who submitted the ticket. Additionally, the other peer reviewers can jump in on tickets they didn’t personally submit.
  5. Based on the discussion, students should make changes to their papers. They can either edit the documents in the browser, or (if they are feeling more adventurous) edit the documents on their computer and commit changes using GitHub Desktop.
  6. Using their chosen method of editing, students can address the comments in the tickets. In their commit messages, they can specify the changes made an include “closed #[ticket number]” to mark the issue as “resolved” on GitHub (see figure 5).
Figure 3. The “Issues” tab

An image showing how to find the "issues" tab

Figure 4. Sample Ticket

A sample ticket with tags selected

Figure 5. Resolving a ticket

An image showing how to resolve an issue with a commit

Publishing to the Web (bonus)

  1. If students want to publish their final papers to the web, they must make sure that their file is named “” in GitHub.
  2. To publish the files, students should navigate to “Settings” on the repository, and on the main “Options” tab, scroll down to “GitHub Pages.”
    1. Under source, select “Master Branch” from the dropdown (see figure 6).
    2. The paper will now be available as a webpage at [username][repositoryName]
Figure 6. Configuring GitHub Pages

An image showing the repository settings for GitHub Pages

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