Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Are In-Class Peer Leaders Effective in the Peer-Led Team-Learning Approach

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Are In-Class Peer Leaders Effective in the Peer-Led Team-Learning Approach

Article excerpt

Peer-led team learning (PLTL) (www.sci.ccny.cuny.edu/~ chemwksp) has been widely adopted for enhanced learning in a variety of disciplines, most widely in introductory chemistry, but also in organic chemistry as in this study (for example, Tien, Roth, and Kampmeier 2002). This pedagogical approach forms student groups led by students who have previously done well in the course (herein referred to as standard peer leaders). These groups, which are termed workshops, work outside of class on content provided by the professor. This study shows that in-class peer leaders (students currently taking the class) can perform group leadership as effectively as standard peer leaders, enabling easier implementation of this pedagogy. This change in peer leadership was undertaken because using students who have already completed the course in question as peer leaders presents two implementation barriers. These are cost, primarily payment of peer leaders, and concerns about sufficient availability of peer leaders. For cost reduction, we reasoned that since in-class peer leaders had to go to workshop anyway, we would pay them less than standard peer leaders, so using this system would cut costs significantly. For our discipline, organic chemistry, increasing peer availability was important in both the four-year environment at Lehigh and the two-year environment at Northampton Community College and Penn State, Lehigh Valley. Historically, there are few peer tutors at Lehigh and implementing peerled team learning in the whole class would require about 20 leaders, which wasn't thought to be achievable. At Northampton CC and the Penn State branch campus, students leave after taking organic chemistry, effectively preventing the PLTL program for this second-year course. Thus, in-class peer leaders would make PLTL possible at the two-year college level in organic chemistry.

Because we are making a comparison to the normal PLTL program, we have been careful to make this study as similar as possible, though there are many variations to be found in current practice around the country. Certainly, we have met the six critical criteria for success (PLTL Workshop Project 2003), which include (1) being integral to the course, (2) strong faculty involvement, (3) peer-leader formal training, (4) content similarity achieved by using workshop materials derived from Kampmeier, Varma-Nelson, and Wedegaertner (2001), (5) greater than 90% attendance at workshop sessions, and (6) institutional support.

Our local environments

At Lehigh, 100-200 students take Organic Chemistry each semester. Engineers make up 28% of the class, biologists are the majority with 50%, chemistry/biochemistry majors are in the minority with 12%, and 10% are other majors. The classes are 45% sophomores and 45% juniors and are supported with Blackboard course software. At Northampton Community College, there are 25-35 students, who attend day or evening classes; while at Penn State, there were 10 students and too many dropped to make it a useful evaluation. Data from the two-year environment are not presented here but are qualitatively similar.

Study protocol

Groups of eight students were allowed to self-form. Fifty percent of students formed full groups, 30% formed as smaller groups, and 20% said they had no preference for fellow group members. These last 50% were aggregated into full groups. The meeting times (one to one and a half hours) were chosen by groups, which met in seminar-type rooms. Standard peer leaders were selected because they were good students with interactive personalities. In-class peer leaders were recommended by their introductory chemistry instructors and, as it turned out, they came entirely from honors chemistry classes. Standard peer leaders were paid $500 per semester, while in-class peer leaders were paid $250 per semester. Either a standard peer leader or an in-class peer leader was assigned to each group. Half of the groups had standard and half had in-class peer leaders, and over the semesters reported here there were 120 groups. …

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