Peer learning: not just for engagement

Filed in engaging students in class by on October 12, 2017 0 Comments
spider web

image from Wikimedia Commons

In discussions about teaching and learning at WPI in recent years, one of the concerns and frustrations I’ve heard most frequently is that students seem to forget what they were taught–and what we were convinced they actually learned– just a few months ago in a previous course.

I recently came across this article,”Why Students Forget – and What You Can Do About It,” which offers some insights from neuroscience research and suggests some practical strategies that help students retain and transfer knowledge. What the strategies have in common is the idea of helping students make connections– hence the spider web analogy– and also using the knowledge frequently over time.

peer-to-peer discussion

Photo copyright WPI

Many of us use some form of collaborative or peer learning during class, perhaps primarily as a strategy to help students actively engage in the material, or just stay awake. What I found interesting in the linked article is recent research showing that peer-to-peer explanations also help students reactivate and encode knowledge and retain it longer.

I found the other strategies easily applicable as well, and several reinforce some practices presented by faculty and staff in recent Food for Thought seminars: intentionally re-exposing students to previous concepts (the spacing effect); using frequent ungraded or low-stakes quizzes or tests; mixing together problems that call upon different concepts (vs. grouping them together); and presenting information in multiple modalities such as combining text and images, which also happens to be a key principle of Universal Design for Learning.




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