One of the traditional models for peer learning involves a group of students gathering in the library or a coffee shop, pulling out their textbooks and class lecture notes, and helping each other consolidate their learning by looking up information in their books or notes and solving example problems (for math or science courses) together.
Today, in the age of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and other open and online courses that enroll tens of thousands of students, it would be nice to have a way of fostering the same kind of small, intimate study groups that exist in this traditional peer learning model. But how can we do this?
At UC Irvine, we have been developing a prototype for a web application that combines all of these activities - content search, real-time communication, and collaborative problem solving - into one system centered on our large topically indexed OpenChem video lectures . The application associates OER video and textual explanations with problems, solutions and even simulations. It allows peer groups to manage online study groups, and meet virtually for collaborative study sessions.
Students enter a search term and the system returns links to all lecture videos in the OpenChem library that address that topic. The system simultaneously returns associated text from an open source, such as UC Davis' ChemWiki or an OpenStax textbook, as well as selected relevant practice problems on which the students can work together online.
Students who wish to join study groups create accounts for themselves in the system. An advanced student who has been trained as a peer leader can then set up these groups and invite students to join. He/she can also use the system to initiate synchronous online study sessions that employ VOIP voice communications and a shared whiteboard for collaborative work.
The students log into their accounts when their study session is scheduled to begin and access the online conferencing feature. The peer leader guides their study, perhaps by using the search function to find relevant videos and text, and the students can use the shared whiteboard capability to work on practice problems together.
One of the advantages of this system is that the content is carefully curated so students can find answers through video and associated text more quickly than they could by searching through class notes or textbooks. Because the content is curated, only relevant and useful information is returned from the searches, which makes more effective use of students' study time by reducing the time needed to find answers and increasing the time available for collaborative problem solving.
Our presentation will provide more details about this peer learning application as well as encourage discussion on ways to bring massive learning contexts down to a human scale.