In “peer-led team learning,” groups of undergraduate college students works together in small groups (six to eight students) to solve problems with the help of a “peer leader” — an undergraduate competent in the course content as well as group facilitation. This group work compliments traditional class lectures, but does not replace it. Research from the¬†School of Science at¬†Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) explored a model of online peer-led team learning (“PLTL”) using connectivity tools (such as Adobe Connect) to engage students during synchronous online sessions.

Conclusion: both peer leaders and students found the flexibility of online peer-led team learning groups beneficial. No surprise there — but not all connectivity tools are created equal, and some are expensive. To help institutions looking to adopt a cyber peer-led team learning model, the researchers evaluated a number of connectivity tools, both free and commercial (view a handy table of their findings here). The winner among free platforms: Google Hangouts. Among commercial platforms, Adobe Connect 8 squeezes out Cisco Webex and Blackboard Collaborate because of its simultaneous screen-sharing function.

The researchers also tested the effectiveness of using tablet computers (both Apple and Android) with apps to run Adobe Connect and Google Hangouts, but found the devices not yet ready to support online PLTL. The tablets tended to have problems with software, system crashes, and students had difficulty writing legibly on the touch surfaces.

In a press release, researcher Pratibha Varma-Nelson noted: “We know that students learn by doing things themselves and with PLTL, with expert learners teaching their peers, students get 10 to 15 percent better grades than when peer-led teaching sessions are not part of the curriculum.” In addition, cyber PLTL allows students more flexibility in their often overly-busy days, and the ability to record sessions (in some platforms) allows evaluation of peer leaders and student learning.

 

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