Peer-led group learning as a variation of collaborative learning has become widely adopted in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines as a way of supporting research tasks and the development of problem-solving skills. This learning approach is based on ‘small groups of students meeting regularly with a peer – one who has additional expertise in the subject matter – to work on problems collaboratively’ (Pazos, Micari & Light, 2009).
This paper explores how peer-led group learning was introduced to a third-year undergraduate module for Biology students (international, mixed gender) undertaking extended project work in microbial annotation. Students were tasked with learning how to annotate and assemble genetic data, mastering Unix command level programming to conduct their own research projects and were supported by a postgraduate researcher, who served as an expert peer resource to the group. As part of their project work, they were expected to search for online solutions to any technical issues they encountered.
Although the students were engaged in individual projects, meeting on a regular weekly cycle to discuss progress with their facilitator, they were encouraged to work collaboratively in the performance of their research using a centrally- supported virtual collaborative environment – Slack – for the duration of the module, drawing on the expertise of the peer expert as required. Slack was presented to students as a hub to share ideas / findings and to raise questions for the attention of the peer expert and the wider project group.
This paper presents findings from an action research study of the delivery of this peer-led group learning design, which was first introduced to a cohort of 6 students in 2017-18 (Chong et al., 2018), and subsequently modified – incorporating the lessons learned – for a cohort of 7 students over the current academic year (2018-19). The research was carried out using a mixed-mode evaluation design incorporating entry, mid-point and end of project surveys and activity logs of each Slack channel, which were reviewed through content and social network analysis to determine the frequency and nature of the interactions between group members over the course of the module.
Our preliminary findings show how the Slack environment served as the hub for the majority of project queries. Student feedback highlighted the value of the Slack environment’s distinct channels for questioning and ideas sharing, with participants noting the impetus that the ‘push’ notifications gave to highly agile problem-solving support in response to individual queries. This presentation will discuss the design principles of peer-led group learning and the scope for collaborative environments such as Slack to support effective student collaborations, which promote peer-to-peer learning – with a focus on interaction, creative problem-solving – and reduce dependency on the instructor for guidance and control of learning processes. We will discuss the transferability of this design approach to other disciplines and its overall value to learning, particularly in the development of employability skills for the world of work.
Chong, S, Chong, J. & Walker R. (2018). Facilitating peer-led group research through virtual collaboration spaces: Case Study. Available at: https://elearningyork.wordpress.com/learning-design-and-development/case-studies-archived/facilitating-peer-led-group-research-through-virtual-collaboration-spaces/
Pazos, Pilar, Marina Micari, and Gregory Light. (2010). Developing an Instrument to characterise peer‐led groups in collaborative learning environments: assessing problem‐solving approach and Group Interaction. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35 (2). Routledge: 191–208. Available at: https://srhe.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02602930802691572