University of Tasmania
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Impact of peer learning: an investigation into the role and impact of peer learning in an online environment : a case study on students' learning experience

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posted on 2023-05-28, 08:28 authored by Sakulwichitsintu, S
This research investigates the role and impact of technology-supported peer learning activities in an online environment through a case study examining students' learning experience. The case study involved 196 students, 14 teaching staff and 3 technologies used within three academic units (one first year undergraduate unit, one third year undergraduate unit and one master level postgraduate unit) at the University of Tasmania over two years. In research on peer learning there is evidence that a positive student learning experience is important for successful learning. But the concept of the student learning experience is still poorly defined. There is also evidence to highlight that in an online environment, the student learning experience involving peer learning activities has been negatively impacted by challenges related to several factors including: students' accountabilities when working with other students, and challenges related to students' communication on exchanging learning experiences. These factors, including the lack of clear definition of the student learning experience pose further challenges to improve the development, implementation and evaluation of peer learning activities within the online environment. These challenges include the absence of guidelines on how best to develop and implement peer learning activities in an online environment; how to link these activities to select the right technology to support peer learning in online environment; and how to customize individual delivery and assessment to enhance student learning experience. Previous research has already identified the influence of a range of factors on peer learning including: the attribute of individual student; the role and behaviour of teaching team; student understanding of the unit requirements; natural events and experiences of peer activities; supporting of social relationships; and the design, adoption and use of information technology. However, exploring their relationship and how they influence student learning experience is still limited. In this context, this research aims to: (1) Investigate the role and usefulness of peer learning activities in an online environment for contributing to students learning experiences; (2) Implement a set of technology-supported peer learning activities and evaluate their impact on students learning experiences in an online environment; (3) Generate a framework for supporting online peer learning unit designs that optimise students learning experiences. The research methodology deployed in conducting this exploratory investigation adopted a research philosophy drawing on a subjective ontology and interpretivist epistemology. The research strategy involved a case study involving participants and technologies used in three educational units (one first year undergraduate unit, one third year undergraduate unit and one master level postgraduate unit) at the University of Tasmania over two years. The research design utilised both qualitative and quantitative methods structured through a pre- and post- intervention approach over four phases supporting concurrent triangulation. The four phases were: a preliminary phase selecting and assessing units for the case study; a baseline phase involving data collection and analyses of existing unit delivery; a redesign phase involving development, implementation and evaluation phase targeting students learning experiences; and an outcome phase involving interpretation and discussion of the research findings. Across the first three phases data collection involved the use of both quantitative and qualitative techniques. Data analysis techniques included the use of social network analysis, descriptive statistics, factor analysis and thematic coding of the qualitative data from 3 focus groups and 14 semi-structured interviews. Following base-line analysis of two online units, re-design was conducted within the two online units and evaluation conducted within them. Based on this research it is possible to provide a clearer definition of student learning experience in the context of technology-supported peer learning in an online environment as follows: The processes that contribute to an individual student's acquisition of new knowledge and skills as well as an increased awareness, understanding of, and engagement with group work. The efficacy of these processes is related to an individual's personal motivation and perception of, and engagement in interaction and communication with other students as supported by teachers and technology in an online environment. To understand and investigate the diversity of the processes involved in student learning experience, it is useful to consider them across 7 inter-related dimensions. These 7 dimensions are accountability for collaborative works, sense of community, self-efficacy for reflection, group work contribution, competency of reflective practices, assistance for interaction, and communication convention. The research has produced four key findings as follows: (1) The nature and importance of the interdependence among the three peer learning attributes (interaction, communication, and motivation) on the learning experience of students. When students have their critical thinking presented and share their active ideas, other students (peers) are challenged and encouraged to use reflective practice without feeling direct pressure. Consequently, the peer interaction was increased as a result of both critical thinking and reflective practice, all of which help improve the learning experience of students. This finding shows that it is not the frequency of interaction but the perception of content quality exchanged is significant. The capacity of the individual for beginning, and reflecting on, peer communication is also significant for enhancing the learning experience of students. (2) The identification of student-related factors and their influence on peer learning activities, the six student-related factors involved and identified as follows: intrinsic improvement, skill development, conversations, moral awareness, orientation to learning, and assessment driven. This key finding focuses on students' own accountability, skill development, and orientation attendance. The students who showed their own critical thinking would have the responsibility to work together. Also, they understood the importance of interactive feedback, which had an influence on any increase in their peers' reflective practice. The increase of understanding, perception, and performance of accountability for peer learning activities definitely affected the improvement of students' learning experience. This finding shows that targeting these factors during re-design can enhance peer learning activities by stimulating improved accountability, critical reflection, appropriate orientation to learning and the improved expectations of students around skills development, learning outcomes, assessment and the use of technology. All these have been identified as contributing positively to students' learning experiences. (3) The impact and role of the teaching team on peer learning activities, learning resources and learning environment. This finding suggests that re-designs that encourage students to actively participate in peer learning without the involvement of teachers require that the teaching team clearly explain the aims, assessments, and objectives of technology-supported peer learning activities. However, the teaching team must continue to anticipate that some students will still requires direct interaction with the teaching team. The student learning experience is greatly enhanced by the teaching team when resources, the learning environment and peer learning activities are communicated, structured and delivered in an integrated and holistic manner. (4) Understanding the role of technology affordance and integration on peer learning activities. This finding suggests that the interaction between students on peer learning activities worked more effectively by using technologies that supported asynchronous communication, while the interaction of the teacher and student worked effectively by technologies that supported synchronous communication. For the learning experience of students, it is also apparent that message notifications are a useful way of stimulating the interaction even when using asynchronous technologies. At the substantive level, this research contributes a detailed case study on the role and impact of technology-supported peer learning activities in an online environment. Specifically it identifies factors relating to peer learning attributes, the role of the teaching team and the role of technology and how these interact to impact on students learning experiences. At the methodological level, this research deployed a pre- and post- intervention over four phases to support concurrent triangulation. This approach supported the investigation of the impact of a range of factors and their inter-relationships on students learning experiences from online peer learning. At the theoretical level, this research has produced a framework of recommendations for peer learning of educational units being launched in online environments. This framework highlights how to enhance student learning experiences from their participation in technology-supported peer learning activities. The framework also illustrates how teaching staff can optimise orientation, teaching activities, learning activities, selection of appropriate technology tools, student assignments and group assignments and how these decisions link to the levels of interaction between students and between students and teachers.


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