Beyond making your class active for each individual student, another way to enhance the learning experience is to get students interacting with each other. You can do this by adding a layer of social engagement around the ways you are already guiding students’ learning. For example:
- Modify a question for individual student reflection into a prompt for class discussion
- Turn a problem to solve into a collaborative project
- Use a multiple-choice question as the basis for a group decision to be made
- Take a student-generated question and turn it into an opportunity for peer assistance and feedback
Going further, you can strategize your entire teaching approach around maximizing these opportunities to have students exchange ideas and engage multiple perspectives. To find out more about this important characteristic of the UT learning experience, visit Social Learning.
How can I engage students through peer collaboration?
Effective engagement with peers has proven itself a successful and powerful learning method. Giving space in a lesson for students to build knowledge together can lead to deeper understanding of the material in addition to other positive outcomes.
When students are given questions or problems to solve while interacting with other students they:
- ask questions to improve their own or their peer’s understanding
- explain, elaborate, clarify, and justify their reasoning
- reflect on their knowledge
- encourage and motivate team members
- and build peer relationships
Students can work in pairs by collaborating with the person sitting next to them, or with a group of students sitting around them. Some instructors form permanent teams at the beginning of the semester and these teams sit in designated seats where they work together all semester.
Some examples of peer-to-peer learning are:
- Peer Instruction - students formulate an answer to a conceptual question, then share it with a partner to compare their reasoning and come to agreement before submitting their answer again.
- Team-Based Learning - students work in the same teams all semester, taking group quizzes and using in-class application activities to reach consensus on complex decisions.
- Problem-Based Learning - students work together to solve a complex problem.
- Project-Based Learning - students compose questions then find methods to answer their question.
- Case-Based Learning - students explore factually based scenarios and evaluate a given course of action.
- Inquiry Learning - students work in groups to generate their own problem, then research and explore answers.
How can I engage students during discussions?
Good discussions hinge on well-crafted questions. Meaningful questions stimulate students to reflect on the content they have learned and extend it to a higher level. Different types of questions require different levels of thinking. Asking questions to test memorization of content evokes low-level recall thinking, whereas questions that require students to predict, analyze or evaluate evoke higher-order critical thinking skills and more meaningful discussions. Ask questions that:
- Require student input: “What questions do you have about this specific part of the process? Or “What do you think the author of our book would say to that?
- Are open-ended even if there is a correct answer: “When we multiply two numbers together will the answer always be greater than the multiplicand?” “If this were to happen in a vacuum how would it be different?”
- Stimulate thinking from different perspectives: “Should smoking be banned from the UT campus?” From the perspective of a smoker and a non-smoker.
Thought-provoking questions developed within a good environment for exchanging ideas elicit richer discussions.
Discussions can be initiated with:
- Reflection guides that students complete before class
- Key questions from a text or video that have multiple answers
- Examples that fit or do not fit a particular model or theory
- Challenges that extend the content
- Personal experiences, yours or theirs, that fit or complicate a concept
- A video vignette that stimulates inquiry
- A poll of students’ views or experiences (e.g., “Would you would tell a store assistant if she gave you too much change?”)
- “What if” questions
- Intriguing stories, paradoxes, or problems that expand possibilities as more information is revealed
- Multiple-choice questions where all the answers are correct possibilities, but with one answer considered the BEST answer. Have students explain why or rank order the possible answers. Learn More about writing effective multiple-choice questions.