- Joseph Joubert
When we challenge our students to teach a concept or idea to their peers, they must function at the highest level within Bloom’s taxonomy – to create. To prepare to teach their peers, they must first deeply understand their topic. From there, however, they must determine how best to present their understanding to help others learn the material. They must organize their ideas in a logical and digestible way, determine how to convey the information, anticipate potential challenges to understanding, and prepare any materials and strategies to instruct their classmates. In this process they shift from a consumer of information and ideas to a creator. Peer teaching or instruction can take the form of a standard lecture or presentation, to more creative or participatory modes.
Key features of the strategy
For peer teaching to be effective, faculty should be sure to focus on two key considerations: the goals and parameters for a peer teaching experience and how the work will be assessed. In terms of goals and parameters, the instructor should clearly present the purpose, format and scope for how the students should prepare to teach their peers. If a peer teaching experience is designed as a review activity prior to a final exam, the instructor may choose to divide up the key concepts in the course and encourage students to create a focused description and explanation of the given topic in a particular format (e.g., printed handout, contribution to a course Web site or wiki, brief video). It can be helpful to provide some parameters and possibly examples from prior courses, but also to allow latitude for the students to meet the learning goals in divergent and/or creative ways.
Assessing peer teaching can be complex. The instructor can be the sole assessor of student work. Alternatively, the classmates can also assess the peer teaching and their scores can be factored into the final grade. In some cases, you might opt for student self-assessment to factor into the grade as well. The key thing to remember in any of these scenarios is that the assessment should be anchored closely to the learning goals. Some instructors have a tendency to heavily weigh aesthetic considerations, particularly when students use more creative approaches to their teaching. This may be appropriate if the aesthetics are tied to student learning goals (e.g., in a video production or creative writing course). However, these considerations should not be heavily emphasized if they do not connect clearly to the learning goals. For more on assessing peer learning, see the work of David Baud and his colleagues from the University of Technology in Sydney on strategies for assessing peer learning.
Examples and Variations
One of the simplest and low-risk ways to embed peer teaching or instruction into coursework is with the think-pair-share method. Carleton College offers a helpful overview and multiple examples of the think-pair-share method for faculty members. The basics of the method involve asking the class a question and providing time for the students to consider their answer on their own initially. They then work with one or two additional students to discuss their individual answers to the question. The instructor then asks different groups of students to share their answers with the whole group. The Faculty Center for Innovative Teaching at Central Michigan University offers a number of different variations on the think-pair-share basic method.
A variation on think-pair-share, peer instruction is an approach that has a long history of implementation in higher education to more effectively engage students in large lecture classes. The basic model of PI includes students individually answering questions, usually using “clickers,” then discussing the question with a small group of peers, and finally answering the questions again. In this process, students essentially engage in socially constructed understanding of the topic at hand (see the Berkeley Teaching Resource Center brief for more). Simon and colleagues provide a detailed rationale and results from a study of implementing PI in an Introductory Computing class. In this approach, lecture was largely replaced by this process of students essentially instructing each other through a carefully designed set of questions and facilitation techniques. For a detailed discussion of peer teaching, listen to Episode 53 of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, Peer Instruction and Audience Response Systems.
Student-Created Video Projects
Perhaps the most challenging but engaging way to encourage students to teach each other concepts from a course is through student-created videos. By using free and easy to use video production tools (e.g., iMovie, Moviemaker, WeVideo) and video sharing sites (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo), student-created video projects leverage a medium and process valued by the Millennial generation. William Genereux, an Associate Professor of Computer and Digital Media Technology at Kansas State University reports on his efforts to replace a research paper assignment with a video project. He notes that while the work is very engaging and substantive for students, they often felt out of their comfort zone in the process. He suggests that this was a positive for the students – particularly in terms of developing their disciplinary communication skills.
Connections to 21st Century Skills and Technologies
Teaching or instructing others provides students with a rich opportunity to practice skilled communication - an important dimension of 21st century learning design (21CLD). It can be quite challenging for students to synthesize what they’ve learned and then convey their understanding effectively to their peers. Whether through brief, in-class discussion opportunities like those noted in the think-pair-share and PI examples above, or through more traditional peer teaching experiences, when students teach each other, they “learn twice over.” When the communication is extended to the creation of products like Web sites, video, or publications, the student engagement and motivation may also be enhanced.
Technology tools and resources provide students a range of ways to richly communicate their understanding in order to teach each other. In addition to the possibilities of student-created video, they can create Web sites (e.g., Weebly, Smore), wikis (e.g., Wikispaces), and graphic concept maps (e.g., Spiderscribe). The products that students create to teach each other can be archived by the instructor and shared broadly via the Web.
How might you challenge students to construct an argument in your classes?
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