Thinking about peer-to-peer interaction

At this time of year, everyone is busy preparing subject outlines for next session. What are some of the things that are important to think about when it comes to peer-to-peer interaction?

When you are thinking about the kinds of interaction in your subjects, try to focus on three areas:

A. Encourage interaction through the design of the subject

Try to move beyond just having the discussion boards available for student Q&A, where you act in a responsive way. Don’t leave it to chance.

Interactive activities should be embedded in your modules, and have a clear purpose: This could be as simple as well-designed questions to promote interrogation of particular concepts or issues in the Discussion Boards; using Online Meeting to uncover and address misconceptions around a particular concept or issues; or asking students to collectively gather resources or brainstorm solutions to a problem using tools such as Padlet or MindMeister.

Plan for both synchronous and asynchronous interaction:

  • Synchronous (real time, e.g. online meeting) – best for student led seminars/mini-conferences, tutorial-style sessions with lots of student input and feedback, initial brainstorming and exploration of a concept/topic, finding and addressing misconceptions around a topic (e.g. use the poll tool), helping students to come to a shared consensus on a topic (possibly after broader exploration in discussions)…If you are just planning to present a ‘lecture’ with little student interaction, there are better ways to do this (screencasts that are broken down into smaller chunks, so students can watch in their own time).
  • Asynchronous (e.g. discussion boards) – best for extended discussions that require more thinking and deeper exploration, interactions that require time inbetween for further exploration / reflection, co-development of resources…

Add it to your subject outline: Make sure interaction is part of the ‘How you are expected to engage with the subject’ and ‘Your workload in this subject’ sections.

B. Encourage students to participate thinking through the interaction carefully.

  • Are you reflecting its importance by linking it to assessment? This isn’t required, but if you are designing so that there are definite outcomes, you should at least consider if and how that is assessed. By linking your Online Meetings to assessment the attendance rate will significantly increase.
  • Create spaces for social interaction as well, especially if you want students to work together on formal activities later in the semester. It’s often good to keep these separate, so that strategic students who are less interested in the social side can find what they need quickly.Is it clear what they are going to get from the interaction, or is it just ‘busy work’ that they can avoid? Is is clear what you want them to do, and how you want them to interact?
  • Initiating and facilitating the interactions (without dominating so that you close off their contributions) – not just responsive to questions.
  • Organising the interactions well so it’s easy to become involved, and doesn’t get overwhelming. Use separate Forum headings for each conversation if you are using Discussion Boards.
  • Doing things in synchronous sessions that they can’t get by just watching the recorded session. Incorporate polls, questions, problems to involve them.

C. Encourage quality interactions

You can do this by…

  • Helping students become active participants in the interactions. This will come from the kind of experiences you encourage. Let them trial taking on expert roles.
  • Building your facilitation skills. Try the Dialogic Inquiry application. It comes out of Auckland Uni and is based on extensive research to help academics better facilitate discussions by them/students with some useful prompt questions that help get to the heart of the issue.
  • During your interactions, think about how you can scaffold workplace relevant skills, such as cooperation, negotiation, consensus-building
  • Making sure students (and you) are prepared for synchronous sessions – early setup instructions, open early for testing time etc. See the Online Meeting ‘how to’ instructions.

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