Online Peer Learning in Higher Ed — Digital Strategies

Ever since I started experimenting with different ‘levers’ (thanks ITS program!) I can’t seem to stop as every experiment gives you new insights, results, ideas, and potential approaches. Today I tried another peer learning experiment in my ‘digital strategies’ class which is a class for students in their final year on their way to their bachelor’s degree.

The set-up

As the class the week prior was rather one dimensional in its delivery (still an awesome guest lecture content wise though!) due to technical difficulties (couldn’t see chats or share content in MS Teams, thanks Microsoft) I thought the following week would be perfect to switch things up and make students be more interactive.

After an initial introduction to the topic and a laying of the land I presented students with four sub topics related to this week’s class (Topic: “Clicks are not enough”). Those sub topics were: Advanced SEO, SEM, CRO, and ASO. I only scratched the surface of the topics before and now presented students with their task to work in their respective project groups and research on one specific topic that was assigned by me beforehand.

On average there were three groups per topic so the teams also had to find a way to collaborate / communicate with each other in order to prevent redundant work. The outcome of the task should be one infographic per group per topic.

The thoughts

I had a few thoughts / ideas in the lead up to the experiment that drove the planning and implementation of this class:

  1. Students have to do research on their own: They can’t just rely on my slides / presentation but actually have to go out find material by themselves, evaluate that material, understand it, and make sense of it. Active content digestion of the material found vs passive digestion of information presented.
  2. Since there were several groups per topic I added the requirement that there shouldn’t be any duplicate / redundant presentations at the end which means the student groups had to communicate with each other to ensure different approaches in their respective research groups. Part of the head-fake learning here: Improving communication skills.
  3. In order to help with communication and collaboration I set up a common collaboration space (on Mural) for students to brainstorm which lead them to use tools that they might not necessarily be too familiar with which should be beneficial when it comes to adapting real world skills.
  4. Eventually the students then had to create infographics about their respective research topics. As students are usually good at presenting class work (as that’s what they do all the time) this task made them a) find tools to create infographics and b) forced them to re-think and really understand their topics in order to find the best way to present their research in a way that is easily understood.
  5. Lastly they then had to teach each other (with follow up asynchronous assignment to check) which added another learning layer to the whole assignment as, obviously, you learn while you teach as well + presenting to peers and knowing it’s crucial content for the exam / final project increased the pressure to really get things right and made students give it their best.

The tools

In order to get the whole experiment going I only relied on MS Teams, our main medium of online instruction, and Mural (collaborative online space) while giving students the option to create infographics in whatever way they saw fit.

Bringing them onto the common mural added some structure to the whole assignment and increased peer pressure as they could see other groups working on their topics in real time while allowing students to create infographics with any tool they preferred gave them freedom to be creative.

The process

The experiment almost worked out as planned. Knowing ones students obviously helps here as setting the whole class up with students who didn’t know me before might have taken longer. If you now your students and vice versa the explanation phase of a class can be shortened which leads to students being able to jump into the active part of the class faster and hence seeing and enjoying outcomes sooner than later.

In this specific case the intro part (as mentioned in the beginning of this article) took around 30 minutes and was sprinkled with some interactive questions for students to answer before the set up of the experiment started.

The explanation phase of the experiment didn’t take any longer than ten minutes and was supported by a slide as well as the link to the common mural. Moreover I told students to keep me updated in our respective group chats on MS Teams to voice any concern or ask any question that might come up during the assignment.

Should a group not report back within 20 minutes I would follow up in the group chat and ask for a status report to ensure everybody was on the right track. Most groups however kept sending updates on their own without me having to pressure or follow up.

The whole activity lasted for approximately 90 minutes and it felt like the previously defined learning outcomes were very well achieved.

The outcome

These just mentioned outcomes included the ideas mentioned in the ‘thoughts’ part of this article:

  1. Primary learning outcome: Understand the researched topic. Achieved via research, creation of an infographic, and peer teaching.
  2. Secondary learning outcome: Understand the peer presented topic. Achieved via looking at the created infographics and listening to peer groups explaining their findings (as it is peers students tend to listen more closely).
  3. Tertiary learning outcome: Improve research skills: Achieved via student groups doing research and evaluating found material / sources.
  4. Quaternary learning outcome: Increase adaptability to using different tools in order to complete tasks/assignments.
  5. Head-fake learning 1: Improve communication skills due to collaboration necessities with other groups.
  6. Head-fake learning 2: Improve communication skills due to having to stay in touch / update the instructor (different way of communicating compared to communication with peers)
  7. Head-fake learning 3: Improve the ability to adapt to new situations. This whole experiment was not announced prior to class and students were put in this situation without warning. #RealLife

Upon checking the asynchronously assigned follow up assignment (a few quick questions to see whether or not everybody understood the topics researched / peer presented) it appears as if most of the initially designed learning outcomes have been met which leads me to believe that such interactive activities are something I should keep on implementing in most of my higher ed courses.

Uni lecturer in #BKK. New Media & ED #Volleyball, #MuayThai. https://saschafunk.com — @mythaiorg, hosting @FunkItPod| it’s not rain, it’s liquid sunshine