The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
The objective of this small-scale study was to create a tutor free, active learning environment where students feel at ease to discuss and work on skill-based problems together.
Activities were designed to practise skills acquired on the course and investigate the benefits of applying this in a peer group, where students were able to bounce ideas off each other. A short tutor led plenary session followed the activity to discuss student ideas and solutions. An online survey was piloted and distributed to students after each tutorial to determine engagement and learning. One-to-one structured interviews were carried out with a small sample of students at the end of the project. A final questionnaire was sent to all students in the tutor groups to establish motivations for attending tutorials.
The majority of students reported that the peer led tasks boosted their confidence and engagement and the tutor free space was deemed as less intimidating for student interaction. The pre tutorial activities were recounted as fun and laid a foundation for positive social interaction in the skill orientated tasks. This allowed the development of a good rapport with both tutor and fellow students. 86% of students surveyed felt specific breakout room tasks enhanced their learning and developed essential skills which increased their performance in the assignments.
Moving forward from this study it is strongly suggested that introducing this style of tutoring early in a student’s academic career would be beneficial. There were indications that confidence and success came with familiarity of the online tools and breakout room tasks. It is recommended that building community within the tutor group, using humour and well-designed breakout room activities will allow the development of this interactive progressive space. The nurturing of confident independent leaners needs to be a universal strategy that will continue its effects long after the student leaves the educational establishment.