In my role as the CTE Liaison for the Faculty of Engineering, part of my job is to assist professors by providing pedagogical advice. This task requires some research from my side in addition to my experience as an engineering student in both undergraduate and graduate programs. During a meeting with Prof. Neil Thomson he mentioned that in a fourth year course that he taught last term he used a “Peer Teaching” model that was a success from both his and the students’ perspectives. I liked the model and the comments from Prof. Thomson’s students. I decided to research the model further and found an interesting paper published in 2001 that studied the model and its effectiveness with senior engineering students .This paper began by explaining the history of “Peer Teaching,” indicating that it is a methodology introduced in 1961. The paper also included some key reasons for adopting Peer Teaching for senior engineering students such as:
- A typical engineering student attending a typical engineering course will retain some problem solving skills with minimal recall of the classroom experience.
- An effective way to remember a specific topic is to teach it.
- Peer grading will encourage students to pay more attention and focus on the details.
The paper described a case study conducted at the University of Nevada and its results. The analysis was of two senior engineering courses delivered using the peer teaching model. In these courses student teams were each responsible for teaching one lecture, with the instructor’s coaching. The rest of the students graded the presenting team. The students were also graded on their peer evaluations. The presenting students were encouraged to meet the professor once or twice before their presentation to discuss/ask questions about their coming presentation. The grade breakdown was as follows: student team lecture 50%, evaluating the presenting team 20%, homework 10%, and final exam 20%.
The students’ response to this approach was positive as their comments emphasized:
- They are getting the information from their non-threatening colleagues.
- The class is fun to go to — they never thought of missing one lecture.
- The environment encourages the students’ creativity, in which they try to come up with a presentation method that is different from the previous presentations
- The students feel assured that they will remember the details of their topic forever.
After analyzing the survey data, the authors of the paper addressed the advantages and disadvantages of the model. The advantages were: the students were able to remember more with less effort, in addition to having fun and being less likely to be bored or sleep. Moreover, among the exam questions there was a question that asked about the number of presentations that the students remembered without looking at any references: the average student remembered 9 presentations out of 12 without referring to any reference or talking to their colleagues. The main disadvantage of this experiment from some students’ perspective was that the students did not fully trust the information given to them by their colleagues. Another issue raised by faculty members questioned students’ ability to teach.
In conclusion, this model is effective in teaching senior engineering students with the advantages of information retention and enjoying learning. A good coaching approach is capable of minimizing the potential detriments associated with the students’ lower knowledge level and information delivery skills.
This sounds like an interesting model that could be used in senior courses across disciplines not only in engineering courses.
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