Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic in March 2020, thoughts about and models of teaching online have evolved. We have gone from emergency remote teaching on Zoom, simply trying to replicate existing modes, to thinking more strategically about online learning and which models or strategies will continue to benefit students as classes return to the classroom setting or take on a blended learning approach. One of those strategies is peer-to-peer learning wherein the students alternate roles as teacher and learner as they work through specific tasks. When carefully planned, it creates learning partnerships, promotes collegiality, provides an opportunity for peer mentoring, and encourages reflection. It also develops a sense of mutual accountability among students.
Weekly Ed-Tech Spotlight:
If you’d like to have long-running discussions activities as part of your course, consider using Harmonize. This is the LSA-licensed tool that includes multiple “milestones” to encourage students to return to the topic repeatedly.
So what does peer-to-peer learning look like? It can be very flexible. Any strategy involving students engaging in collaborative learning with one another can be considered peer-to-peer learning. Here are several ways in which you can incorporate peer learning into your classroom, whether in-person or partially online:
Peer review gives students the opportunity to evaluate and provide feedback to classmates who are working on the same assignment. For best results, students should have clear guidelines for what they are expected to do and a set of questions and focused tasks to work from. A rubric of criteria to evaluate, with brief descriptions of what beginning, moderate, or high accomplishment of that criteria would look like, is one useful way to provide guidance. Encouragement is also important! Students often feel they are not qualified to evaluate other students’ work, but peers understand the process of attempting the assignment best of all, and can provide quality feedback.
Example: Students in psychology use guided questions to review drafts of each other’s final research papers. They can provide feedback about what information/evidence is missing, potential objections, lack of clarity, originality, and other higher order issues. They can also share research tips. Time need not be spent on lower level skills such as grammar and punctuation until the content of the paper is sufficiently revised.
Collaborative assignments involve students working in pairs or small groups to discuss course concepts, or find solutions to problems. This is often very helpful in lecture or case-based courses, when students can help each other apply concepts they’ve just learned. This kind of activity is especially useful if time is included for the groups to teach out, or explain their conclusions to the rest of the class, reinforcing their own understanding.
Example: Physics students work in groups to test their understanding of how to use kinematic equations to solve problems involving the one-dimensional motion of objects. Each group is given a separate problem to solve and then explains to the class the steps they used to solve the problem.
This type of activity first asks students to consider a question on their own, and then provides an opportunity for students to discuss it in pairs, and finally together as a whole class. The success of these activities depends on the nature of the questions posed. This activity works ideally with questions that encourage deeper thinking, problem-solving, and/or critical analysis. The group discussions are critical as they allow students to articulate their thought processes.
Example: Education students are asked to quietly think about the best learning experiences they ever had. Then students are asked to pair and discuss their ideas with another student. Finally, pairs share a few highlights from their discussion and the instructor guides the whole class to look for patterns in what made for the best learning.
The Socratic seminar is an open discussion based on an assigned reading. The group leader asks open-ended questions of the group and students are expected to listen closely, share their ideas, and address questions to other students in the class. This activity works best when the instructor makes it clear to the students that no one person is supposed to have the whole answer—rather each student is supposed to contribute a possible step toward the answer, and the questioning process is intended to make clear the next step after that.
Example: History students who have been studying the CIvil War are assigned to read a text about Reconstruction before the Socratic Seminar. Students are encouraged to annotate the text beforehand so they are better prepared to support their positions. During class discussion, the instructor or a student group leader asks open-ended questions about the reading, and each student who answers is expected to cite the text for supporting evidence. Classmates are encouraged to comment and ask follow-up questions to further the discussion.
A topic, chapter, or reading is broken into smaller pieces, and each piece assigned to a different group. Each group works to become “expert” on their assigned piece, reading in depth and perhaps doing additional research. The students are then remixed so each group includes one student from each of the previous groups. Next, each “expert” teaches their piece to the rest of the group. When completed, and the puzzle is put back together, every team member will have learned something about each piece.
Example: Students in literature class are learning about 4 different literary theories. The class is placed in 4 groups. Group 1 reads a text about Marxist theory; group 2 reads a text about Feminist theory; group 3 reads a text about Deconstruction; and group 4 reads a text about Traditional theory. The idea is that each group member will understand the text/theory they focused on enough to teach it to another group of students. Groups are free to use their own approaches to learn the material; however, they must work to learn the material as a group, assisting each other and sharing their research or understanding.
Next, the students form new groups that include one member from each group (i.e. 1,2,3,& 4). Each group member takes turns teaching the theory he/she learned. At the end of the activity, every student in the new group has learned about each of the four theories.
A small group of students are given time to prepare an argument for a selected topic. The group then publicly (in front of class) discusses different perspectives on the same topic and may also answer questions from a moderator. This allows other students to think through the various sides of an argument and challenge their assumptions.
Example: A group of economics students is asked to explore competing theories for a particular topic and prepare an argument for the theory they believe has the most merit. (If the group has a strong consensus on a single theory, individual members may need to be assigned countervailing theories to research and present, even if their conclusion is that the theory is invalid.) The group holds a discussion in front of the class in which each student presents evidence and reasoning for a particular theory. The rest of the class is encouraged to ask questions and challenge the argument.
If you are interested in learning more about peer-to-peer learning strategies and would like to explore how to incorporate them into your teaching, please feel free to contact LSATSLearningTeachingConsultants@umich.edu to schedule a one-on-one consultation. You may also request a consultation here or call 734-615-0100 to schedule an appointment with a consultant.