Peer to peer discussion, as its name indicates, takes the form of a paired/small group talking activity, with prompts to discuss/questions to answer provided by the lecturer. During such discussions lecturer may circulate, checking for learning points and intervening as required. These discussion activities work best if they are strictly time-limited, helping learners to focus. Peer to peer discussion recognises that learners often have pertinent knowledge about a topic and actively talking with peers can reinforce and build upon that knowledge. Peer to peer discussion is underpinned by educational theories such as social constructivism and conversational learning.
Peer to peer discussions take place in F2F contexts in a range of learning environments, from small workshops to huge lecture theatres.
For learners at a distance, peer to peer discussions can easily be convened using online conferencing tools (often a component of institutional VLEs); discussions can also take place asynchronously in text, using appropriate software (e.g. blogs such as WordPress, and VLE discussion tools).
Peer to peer discussion begins with lecturer setting discussion topic/prompt and a time limit sufficient for small groups to complete the discussion task. In a F2F context, discussion groups are usually made up of learners seated adjacent to one another. Where the learners are known to the lecturer and if the class size allows, the lecturer may direct seating arrangements, for instance grouping less able students with more able to build knowledge, in keeping with the tenets of social constructivism.
Further prompts may be necessary if discussion does not ignite sufficiently.
The lecturer indicates when the specified end time is reached (an elctronic countdown on a screen can be useful for keeping learners on task and injecting a sense of urgency) and then leads a consolidation of learning from the peer to peer discussions by asking for volunteers to report back to all.
Online, peer to peer discussion can take place synchronously, using a conferencing tool, following the same process, with pairs returning from online breakout rooms to the main conference area after a specified time and participating in the full group feedback.
Online peer to peer discussion may also take place asynchronously, using a blog or VLE discussion tool, with the lecturer moderating and drawing the discussion to a close at an appropriate time.
Peer to peer discussion is not usually suitable for summative assessment, but can provide the lecturer with useful formative assessment opportunities as they circulate in the F2F classroom (and the synchronous discussion online) during the activity – when they may hear how discussions are progressing – and asynchronously online, through moderation.
Boud, D, Cohen, R. and Sampson, J. (2001) Peer learning in higher education. New York: Kogan Page
To, J and Carless, D (2016) Making productive use of exemplars: Peer discussion and teacher guidance for positive transfer of strategies, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 40:6, 746-764
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