In most employment, working with and learning from peers is the most common form of development. Being able to collaborate, get feedback and contribute to peer learning is probably the most vital skill in learning today. Working with others may need to be supported with guidelines and structured activities to prepare students, together with debriefing sessions and reports of group activities to tutors.
It also includes peer feedback.
Peer coaching involves pairs or groups of students working together to prepare themselves for the tasks in a course. This could be informal (eg. in the movie, The Paper Chase, where students worked in informal study groups to cope with a highly competitive course structure] or as preparation for a group member being assessed by a tutor on behalf of the others. For example, students teach each other prior to a tutor selecting one of them at random to be tested. The grade of all members of the group is determined solely by the outcome of one of their members, ensuring that preparation is taken seriously.
Learning from one’s peers is the commonplace form of learning in almost all workplaces and provides practice in working together.
This differs from group assessment (see below) as the task assessed is an individual one, not one done jointly by the group.
Creating guidelines/advice for others
Students produce commentaries or assistance to help other students understand the tasks they are expected to undertake. This occurs when these tasks are unfamiliar or when they may be misinterpreted by others, eg. in how to work with reflective activities, or how to operate during placements, etc.
This provides a rehearsal and engagement with academic tasks and the standards of performance expected from them. The criterion for creating of guidelines or advice is that it encourages productive student engagement and addresses their concerns.
Students work together on a joint task for the same grade.
The aim of group assessment is to help students work together on a common outcome and realise that in employment they will often be judged collectively rather than individually.
Overly simplified approaches to group assessment can generate student disquiet, but there is sufficient evidence to show how this can be done well.
Group self assessments
In small groups, students negotiate with each other to produce a common assessment for a task, justifying it against standards and criteria. These group assessments may also be moderated by members of the group by identifying the individual contributions made.
Group self-assessments enable students to discuss standards and criteria that apply to their work. This dialogue can help with exposing misunderstandings and appreciations that do not occur in self-assessment of individual work.
Tasks requiring involvement of others
These may be individually or group assessed, but the task involves co-operative planning, organising the group and reaching common outcomes.
Negotiating co-operation and dealing with issues that arise can focus attention on how to work with others, how to organise work collaboratively and how to judge outcomes of joint work.
Click on this example from University of Canberra to see how the issues, planning and organisation of group assessment are discussed through examples from media production. See also the final report to ALTC (2008).
Team/group work on defining and solving problems
Many activities involve students in defining and solving problems. Some activities are well-established, eg. in problem-based learning groups, syndicate groups, problem solving exercises.
Such activities involve peers working together, expressing their uncertainties, reflecting on challenges, assisting each other and arriving at problem definitions and solutions that require more than individual effort. Some approaches to learning have been organised entirely according to such principles.