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Identifying Opportunities for Peer Learning: An Observational Study of Medical Students on Clinical Placements
Phenomenon: Peer assisted learning (PAL) is frequently employed and researched in preclinical medical education. Fewer studies have examined PAL in the clinical context: These have focused mainly on the accuracy of peer assessment and potential benefits to learner communication and teamwork skills. Research has also examined the positive and negative effects of formal, structured PAL activities in the clinical setting. Given the prevalence of PAL activities during preclinical years, and the unstructured nature of clinical placements, it is likely that nonformal PAL activities are also undertaken. How PAL happens formally and informally and why students find PAL useful in this clinical setting remain poorly understood.
Approach: This study aimed to describe PAL activities within the context of clinical placement learning and to explore students' perceptions of these activities. An ethnographic study was conducted to gather empirical data on engagement in clinical placement learning activities, including observations and interviews with students in their 1st clinical year, along with their supervising clinicians. Thematic analysis was used to interrogate the data.
Findings: On average, students used PAL for 5.19 hours per week in a range of activities, of a total of 29.29 hours undertaking placements. PAL was recognized as a means of vicarious learning and had greater perceived value when an educator was present to guide or moderate the learning. Trust between students was seen as a requirement for PAL to be effective. Students found passive observation a barrier to PAL and were able to identify ways to adopt an active stance when observing peers interacting with patients. For example, learners reported that the expectation that they had to provide feedback to peers after task observation, resulted in them taking on a more critical gaze where they were encouraged to consider notions of good practice. Insights: Students use PAL in formal (i.e., tutorial) and nonformal (e.g., peer observation and feedback on the ward; discussion during lunch) situations in clinical education and find it useful. The educator is crucial in fostering PAL through providing opportunities for learners to practice together and in helping to moderate discussions about quality of performance. Student engagement in PAL may reduce passivity commonly reported in clinical rotations. Further directions for research into PAL in clinical education are identified along with potential strategies that may maximize the benefits of peer to peer learning.
Publication titleTeaching and Learning in Medicine
Department/SchoolTasmanian School of Medicine
Place of publicationUnited States
Rights statementCopyright 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC