Peer Learning and Study Groups

Posted by: Megan McPherson, Project Manager, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Megan tweets for the Not a Waste of Space Project @NaWoS and personally @MeganJMcPherson.

During last year, student feedback and peer learning were a bit of a focus in posts on the Teaching Tom Tom. In this post I want to extend those ideas by outlining a project that investigates peer learning and student feedback in the design studio. In my role in the College of DSC, I research how students and educators experience the process of learning formally and informally in studios or labs, traditional classrooms, lecture theatres, high tech new spaces, face to face, virtually, individually, in groups or teams that are teacher-led and student- led, or in any combination of these interactions. Basically, I research how people learn to become practitioners and experience being practitioners in the academy.

The Learning and Teaching investment Fund (LTIF) supported peer learning project Contribute: Peer learning for inclusive practice in Art and Design was developed from a student’s suggestion in a Student Staff Consultative Committee (SSCC) meeting that students could do more peer interaction and give feedback to further support their studies in art and design studios. As a result, the project encouraged opportunities for student-led formalised activities such as giving and receiving feedback about coursework in studio study groups. A number of students also volunteered for a specially developed RMIT LEAD program to support leadership and communication skills in studio study groups. The project explored how first year studio students can collaboratively support each other in small student led study groups outside of class time. We investigated the impact of peer learning in studio study groups by analysing student and teacher evaluations of their experience, learning outcomes and assessment measures, student confidence in the feedback from their peers and the social contexts of learning. We also considered the aspects critical to the design and implementation of student led study groups in the art and design university studio. The full report of Contribute: Peer learning for inclusive practice in Art and Design will be available online through RMIT University’s LTIF site later in the year.

One of the key findings of the Contribute project that we are further developing is how students value the design and authenticity of curriculum and assessment tasks as part of their learning about practice and how to practice. Students value explicit connections being made to practice and the wider world of practice. Developing the capacities to evaluate and make judgements about your own or others’ feedback is a vitally important professional skill. To be able to develop and try out these skills in an environment that encourages and supports students to find their own voice is an important step in becoming art or design practitioners. As Beckett and Hager suggest, practice is a much ‘richer set of phenomena’ than just learning a technique to ‘manipulat[e] materials, objects, process or ideas’(2002, p12); practice is ‘a body of knowledge, a capacity to make judgements, a sensitivity to intuition, and an awareness [that] the purposes of the actions are all involved in some way’ (2002, p12).

As Contribute has shown us, part of learning how to be a practitioner through encouraging interaction, peer learning collaborations and discussion in your course design may help develop students’ professional abilities to evaluate, critique and make judgements about their own work and the work of their peers.

There are many examples of peer learning activities to support learning and the development of professional practice capacities in Jaques, D., & Salmon, G., (2006). Learning in Groups: A Handbook for Face-to-face and Online Environments. London: Routledge.

University of Melbourne, Five practical guides, about assessing groupwork
http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning/03/index.html

Infed bibliography for more groupwork references: http://www.infed.org/groupwork/what_is_groupwork.htm#biblio

Learning Higher Videos to support groupwork: http://www.learnhigher.ac.uk/groupwork//episodes.php

Beckett, D. & Hager, P. (2002). Life, Work and Learning: Practice in postmodernity. London: Routledge p12.

Further information about peer learning approaches:

In the College of DSC, Senior Advisors Learning and Teaching are a point of contact for advice and information about peer learning, review and assessment strategies.

This year Contribute 2: Broadening peer learning for inclusive practice into Creative Arts Diploma and Associate Degree programs in TAFE was successful in gaining funding to develop the peer review and assessment project in the tertiary university.

If you would like any information about the Contribute project, please contact:

Rebekha Naim, rebekha.naim@rmit.edu.au
Project Manager, Contribute 2: Broadening peer learning for inclusive practice into Creative Arts Diploma and Associate Degree programs in TAFE

Megan McPherson, megan.mcpherson@rmit.edu.au

Project Manager, Contribute: Peer learning for inclusive practice in Art and Design

Co-Project Leader, Contribute 2: Broadening peer learning for inclusive practice into Creative Arts Diploma and Associate Degree programs in TAFE

Professor Barbara de la Harpe barbara.delaharpe@rmit.edu.au
DPVC DSC Project Leader, Contribute: Peer learning for inclusive practice in Art and Design, Contribute 2: Broadening peer learning for inclusive practice into Creative Arts Diploma and Associate Degree programs in TAFE.

Contribute: LEAD Studio Study Group Facilitation program, through RMIT LEAD, is a student peer facilitator support program developed in conjunction with the School of Art and Industrial design, School of Architecture and Design. RMIT Student Services has a newly appointed Peer Learning Senior Coordinator: Carolyn Rundell carolyn.rundell@rmit.edu.au

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