Recognizing that students learn from each other

I would like to comment on Pitfall #5 – Ignore the way students learn from each other. I plan to avoid this pitfall by stepping back and allowing conversations to progress to without intervention, up to a point.

I publish a discussion thread in the week preceding a midterm or final exam to encourage students to discuss their most challenging homework problems. Students are required to make a main post of their own and reply to at least two reply posts. They are instructed to delve into the reason why a question was challenging. No credit is given for posts like, “I really didn’t understand Problem 5 on Homework 2. Can someone tell me how to answer it?” Similarly, reply posts need to discuss underlying concepts.

Stepping back just the right amount is tricky. I have noticed that students tend to communicate more deeply with each other if I do not interfere. Having said that, rather often I see “bad science” happening where students are putting forth their previous misconceptions without learning the real concepts involved. Then there is damage control to be done. I read every post but only intervene when I see a question going unanswered too long, incorrect information propagating or frustration setting in.

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