Technology aligns peer learning and assessment
At university level, there are particular difficulties that hinder the development of an active, engaging and aligned learning environment. The use of learning technology may help to overcome these difficulties. This is the approach taken by Ryan in a study carried out with first year undergraduates during a foundation organic chemistry module covering nomenclature, structure and properties of organic compounds. The author cites poor exam performance and low levels of peer interaction as the driving force for the development of the new approach to delivery that forms the focus of the article.
The author stresses the importance of ensuring that the use of technology genuinely enhances learning, and suggests that adopting the pedagogy of social constructivism (where students work together to construct meaning through the learning activities) is one way to ensure that this is the case. The study also addresses aligned assessment, with the aim of ensuring that students extract educational value from the assessment process. Students often focus on the question 'Is it on the exam?', and it is not easy to shake off an ethos which has its roots in the system of assessment at pre-university level. However, the careful selection of aligned learning activities and assessments should prevent disengagement arising from students' objections to inappropriate assessment.
Changes to the module included the use of voting pads and peer debate/discussion in place of traditional lectures and the use of PeerWise to support independent learning rather than a reading list. Assessment was also changed, with three low stakes multiple choice (MCQ) tests and one that was high stakes replacing a traditional 90 minute exam. Together, the MCQ tests accounted for almost half of the mark awarded for the unit. Feedback on the new approaches was collected from students, and their comments feature heavily in the article.
Voting pads were said to provide 'a mini test every week, without the stress', while the use of PeerWise led one student to spending 'a lot more time reading around the topics . because I was trying to come up with really good questions', and there is plenty more supporting evidence presented. Some students still fail to grasp the concept behind this style of teaching though, with one stating that 'I didn't attend as many lectures as I would have normally if there was an exam'.
Overall, the feedback indicates that the response from students was very positive, although no comment was made on the impact on attainment, which may have provided further interesting discussion. The author does provide an extensive list of 'recommendations for practice' which will be of great value to those intending to implement similar innovations.
B J Ryan, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 2013, DOI: 10.1039/C3RP20178C