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Peer tutoring with the aid of the Internet

Authors

  • Michael J Evans,

    1. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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  • Jeffrey S Moore

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
      Professor Jeffrey S. Moore, Department of Chemistry, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Box 55-5 Roger Adams Laboratory, MC 712, 600 S Mathews Urbana, IL 61801, USA. Tel: (217) 244-5914; email: jsmoore@illinois.edu
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  • Michael J Evans is a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His primary research interests are collaborative learning in blended learning environments, instructional techniques and projects to facilitate collaborative learning online and web development for organic chemical education. Jeffrey S Moore is the Murchison-Mallory professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His primary research interests span organic chemistry and include chemical education, organic materials for self-healing applications and mechanochemistry.

Professor Jeffrey S. Moore, Department of Chemistry, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Box 55-5 Roger Adams Laboratory, MC 712, 600 S Mathews Urbana, IL 61801, USA. Tel: (217) 244-5914; email: jsmoore@illinois.edu

Abstract

Abstract

While the positive effects of peer tutoring in a face-to-face classroom are well documented, studies of computer-aided peer tutoring are less common. However, such exercises have the potential to introduce additional student–student interaction in distance, online and blended courses. Additionally, technology can provide both students and instructors with unprecedented amounts of information related to tutor competency and methods. With these ideas in mind, we have developed a web-based peer-tutoring system called Opal (Online Peer-Assisted Learning) for use in problem-based undergraduate courses. Tutoring interactions on Opal use problems as both contexts for discussion and enforcers of tutor competency—that is, each interaction is based on a single problem, and students must demonstrate competency by answering the problem correctly on a computer before they become eligible to teach it. Based on social network analysis methods and a student assessment of learning gains survey, the introduction of this method of peer tutoring has had a positive effect on student–student interaction and student learning in our course and may have broad implications for peer tutoring in courses that involve digital problem solving as a key component.

Practitioner Notes

What is already known about this topic

  • • Traditional peer tutoring improves student motivation, learning and persistence and has a positive effect on student–student interaction.
  • • Reciprocal peer-tutoring designs, in which students tutor one another without defined tutor and tutee roles, benefit from structured designs with concrete rewards.
  • • Tutor competency is a significant issue for peer-tutoring programs, as students respond negatively when their tutors are unqualified to teach.

What this paper adds

  • • Tracking and facilitating peer-tutoring interactions through the web is possible using a website we have developed.
  • • Within our system, tutoring eligibility is tied to digital problem solving (we call this approach “gated”). The digitally gated approach maximizes tutor competency without significant instructor labor.
  • • Use of the system improved student–student interaction in our course and helped facilitate student learning, as measured by the Student Assessment of Learning Gains survey.

Implications for practice and/or policy

  • • Courses involving significant amounts of digital problem solving may benefit from peer-tutoring exercises, particularly with respect to student–student interactions.
  • • Web-based interfaces for peer tutoring provide unprecedented tracking capabilities and allow instructors to structure peer tutoring exercises in new ways with minimal effort.
  • • Instructors should look to technology not just as a means for conveying content, but also as a way to connect students to one another.
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