A recipe for success: studying with your peers

This contribution from the Learning Development team at St George’s comes from Hauwa.

Hauwa Muhammad is a 2nd year Biomedical Sciences Student and Learning Development Assistant at CIDE (as part of her Placement Training Year).

There are many benefits to getting together with your peers to revise difficult content in your programme of study. A key one is being able to use each other as a learning resource, having those extra thinking heads to resolve problems and clarify doubts. Studying with your peers also allows for a less pressured environment, since you are all in the same boat and, probably, at the same level. Outside the more formal context of the classroom/ lecture, and without the presence of an expert (the teacher), you feel more comfortable asking questions and less worried about making mistakes. Another advantage of forming or joining an existing study group relates to accountability. Being accountable to others and not just to yourself, provides an incentive for studying as you won’t want to feel behind when meeting with your peers. 

You must now be wondering how relevant this post is to you, since all or most of the interactions on your course continue to happen online. Colleagues from CIDE (the Centre for the Innovation and Development in Education) have launched a peer-assisted learning initiative precisely to help with the possible negative impact of not being able to meet face-to-face to discuss the content of your programme. One of the key aspects of this initiative is the involvement of a second-year student in the organisation and facilitation of study groups. I was hired for this purpose and since mid-September I have been piloting online study groups for year 1 students from two of St George’s programs: Biomedical Sciences and Therapeutic Radiography. These study groups are attached to specific modules where students are required to learn vast amounts of new information. I have been using the Big Blue Button (BBB) platform in Canvas to hold the study groups. BBB allows the creation of breakout rooms so students can join others in small groups to engage with the module’s content.  

A group of three students talking and smiling.

Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) has existed since the beginning of education. It occurs all around you. It happens in schools between kids while they are painting, colouring, or learning rhymes together. It takes place during group work or when friends are teaching each other. However, the introduction of PAL into universities was developed by researchers at Vanderbilt University in 1973 (Tariq, 2005). They developed theories that conceptualised learning through participation in social interactions and activities (Chan et al., 2016). Since the official integration of PAL into the university curriculum, 55 universities have adopted it into their curriculum in the UK (Keenan, 2014). This is more than 50% of the universities in the UK and the prevalence of peer-led learning schemes is increasing across institutions in the UK and internationally (Keenan, 2014).

When I enrolled at university, the first advice I was given was to make friends on my course. As a social and outgoing person, it was easy for me to make acquaintances by attending almost every lecture and meeting different sets of people in the lecture hall. Out of the many acquaintances, I made two good friends during my second semester and we have studied together ever since. However, I didn’t really know about the importance of making friends on your course until, during the lockdown in semester 4 when I went back to Nigeria to stay with my family. Suddenly, my schedule was a disaster. I had daily revision sessions on WhatsApp with my two peers and subsequently, I was able to study 70% of the content. My average increased by 10% from my first year to my second year because I studied with these two strangers I met in the lecture theatre.

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The importance of student engagement in the organisation of PAL can’t be emphasized enough, especially in a pandemic. You can’t form relationships with people easily because there are no face-to-face interactions. Now, this is where this initiative is of massive help to students. Every session allows you to meet random strangers that you’re in this struggle with. Every session gives you the opportunity to meet your course mates informally using Big Blue Button and revise the content together. These are the replacement for the group calls I had when I was in Nigeria during lockdown. Some of the session strategies we use to revise the content are peer lessons and informal quizzes. During an informal quiz, students are split into groups of 5 using the breakout rooms and asked to create multiple choice questions from the lectures allocated to each group. This is to create an informal environment to be able to discuss the content and increase individual confidence in learning. Questions are then shared with everyone in the main conference where answers are discussed as a group. Volunteers explain why the chosen answers are right. If there’s a disagreement in answers chosen, everyone provides a reason for why he/she chose a specific answer. These sessions are fun and depend on the engagement of everyone. The sessions are open to all and non-compulsory, although attendance is encouraged.

We’ve had mostly positive feedback from the piloted sessions although we’re still working on improving the PAL sessions.  Students have mentioned that these sessions have enabled them to clarify complex concepts and become more aware of course expectations. We hope reading this blog will encourage you to also form or join a study group with your peers.

References

  1. Chan, N., Phan, C., Aniyah Salihan, N. and Dipolog-Ubanan, G., (2016). (PDF) ‘Peer Assisted Learning In Higher Education: Roles, Perceptions And Efficacy’. Social Sciences & Humanities 24 (4): pp 1811 – 1822.
  2. Keenan, C., (2014). ‘Mapping Student-Led Peer Learning In The UK’. The Higher Education Academy.
  3. Tariq, V., (2005). ‘Introduction And Evaluation Of Peer-Assisted Learning In First-Year Undergraduate Bioscience’. Bioscience Education 6(1).

If you’d like to speak to somebody outside of your programme about preparing for writing assignments and preparing for exams, one-to-one appointments with the learning development team are available via Microsoft Teams. Click here to book, or visit Study+ on Canvas for more information.