Avoiding Pitfall #5: Students learning from each other

For this assignment, I am considering how I can attempt to avoid pitfall #5 and promote effective peer-peer teaching among students.

I am somewhat skeptical of many attempts at students teaching students. There are many ways this can get off track – opinions expressed as facts, quiet students unengaged and/or falling behind, etc.  The other concern that I have is that it often isn’t mutually beneficial. Rather than a sharing of knowledge and ideas, it can become a one-way exchange of information from the more advanced student to the one being tutored.

However, I have also seen student-student teaching be very effective, most commonly as students are completing homework assignments together in the student lounge. The social dynamics of learning from each other is a non-trivial barrier. I am hoping that the hybrid course might provide some mechanisms for overcoming this barrier, but I don’t really have a clear sense of how to tackle this in the hybrid setting yet.

I did a quick literature search and there’s a number of sites out there, but I found the content to be a bit general. I didn’t really find specific ideas that I could implement in my class, so I drafted a couple. I would appreciate your feedback on these or suggestions of other ideas!

  1. Small group discussions: Small group discussion in class is one appraoch I’ve had some success with in my on-campus classes. I’d like to continue using those in the hybrid version, and would like to find an effective way to do this via the Discussion Board. My approach will be to pose a small calculation or process-oriented question to small teams (3-4 students) and have them work out a solution. The challenge with this is ensuring that each member offers a meaningful contribution to the analysis. My previous experience has convinced me that simply putting a point value on submissions makes it easy for some team members to add trivial text while the other members do all of the real thinking. I wonder if assigning a “leader” role for each discussion topic and then rotating that role through all members may be one way to overcome this? I can also see pitfalls of this in that students may only minimally engage on their assigned topic.
  2. Peer assessment: I would also like to explore an anonymous form of peer assessment. My thought on this is to have students submit their assignments by their student ID. I would then post the solution and a rubric on the day that the assignment is due. Then students would have one week to grade a randomly selected peer’s assignment as part of their online/out-of-class activities. This would force students to study the rubric and provide peers with feedback on what they missed.

Are there any practices that you think might be effective in supporting peer-to-peer learning in a hybrid format?


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2 Responses to Avoiding Pitfall #5: Students learning from each other

  1. What a great conversation. There are definitely many layers to social interactions, whether those interactions are mutually beneficial to each, and whether and how we can manipulate group dynamics and environment to create mutual benefit.
    Some instructors in the Biology Department use group work in their large enrollment courses quite effectively, and a specific aspect of their process is assigning a specific role to each student in the group – an expansion of your “leader” role idea. By combining multiple clearly defined, non-overlapping roles with rotation of the roles from activity to activity, you can help encourage participation from all group members on each activity; provide low-stress opportunities for them to participant in their preferred role(s); and help them grow in roles that they normally would not choose.
    I have also heard of multi-step variations involving individual activity/submission followed by a group discussion followed by a final individual assignment submission. Grading for each part can be completely independent of the other parts, or you could use more complex grading e.g. students can earn back points, weighting the points from each part etc. You could also add in a group participation evaluation rubric for students to provide feedback on each of their group members in their assigned roles.
    One additional benefit of the multi-step variation, you could (if you are willing) let students choose to either 1) submit their own individual work once and live with whatever grade they get or 2) participate in the multi-step process and have an opportunity to improve their grade through the group process. For the students that simply loathe group work, they have the choice to opt-out – and if they opt-in, they are more likely to be productive in their participation.
    Finding the right combination of ‘features’ that works best for you and your students usually involves a little bit of trial-and-error, so getting feedback from your students throughout the process is important.

  2. Anonymous peer review with a rubric is possible to do in Canvas. And you can avoid having to use identifying information such as a Student ID number which can lead to FERPA problems. The general workflow in Canvas would be:
    1) Create the assignment as a File Upload assignment.
    2) After the due date for the assignment has passed, you can add the rubric to the assignment and enable the anonymous peer review functionality on the assignment.
    Canvas can randomly assign the peer reviews, or you can manually assign them. As the instructor, you will always know who submitted what, and who is peer reviewing who. If you want to know more about using the peer review functionality or adding a rubric to the assignment for peer reviewers to use, you can email canvas@oregonstate.edu and get some on-campus help for anything Canvas-related.

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