How to encourage student-student interaction?

Of the five common pitfalls of online course design, I’m worried about all of them when it comes to designing my hybrid course. The one that gives me most pause, though, is #5: “ignore the ways students learn from each other.” Encouraging students to learn from each other is something I’ve done too little to encourage in the on-campus version of my course. I worry that when the course becomes a hybrid, the loss of in-class interaction time among students will make the problem even worse.
I think there are two sources of this problem that I’ll need to address in order to avoid it:

1) reliance on the traditional lecture format

2) fear of student online interaction (or lack thereof), or sharing incorrect information

The first is a decidedly offline issue, so why am I worried about it in this context? Because I’m not in the habit of encouraging students to learn from each other in the classroom, I fear it will be even harder for me to incorporate peer learning online.

The second issue stems from the content of my course (Introduction to Econometrics). Will students really converse with each other online about econometrics? How will they convey mathematical or graphical ideas? What incentive will they have to aid each other? Is an online forum the best way to encourage students to learn from each other, or are there better ways?

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4 Responses to How to encourage student-student interaction?

  1. Karen Watte says:

    We have an online math instructor who has had great success in running small group discussions each week that center around small case studies (discussion topics) that are of particular interest to students….gas mileage for a car, blood alcohol level, etc. The students are involved, doing math, questioning each other — and the discussion flourishes. Any time you can ask students to do a bit of analysis of a problem (especially one that may have an impact on them personally) it allows them to see how they can apply what they’re learning.

  2. pugatcht says:

    Thanks very much for the encouragement, Karen. Glad to know there are models out there that work!

  3. Kate says:

    I agree, this is one area that I most want to learn about and get new ideas. I don’t quite yet trust student-student interaction as more valuable than expert-student interaction, and I’m not yet convinced that group projects really work. I’d love to be convinced. I would love to hear about student-student interaction, other than typed discussion forums, that actually work.

  4. Breandan Jennings says:

    I have real concerns about this too Todd. While I like the idea of small groups (I’ve seen it work wonders in the classroom) it is a learning too the is predicated on the assumption that there is at least one person in the group who gets it. This creates competing incentives in size selection. The larger the group, the more likely it is that someone is picking up what you’re laying down, but it also increases the feeling of being lost in the crowd and the ability of students’ lack of understanding to go unnoticed. Have you thought about giving students some kind of a primer test on rudimentary ideas related to what you’re covering in an effort to pick the students with aptitude in the class and making sure they get spread around your groups?

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