Engaging Student Teachers in Peer Learning Via a Blended Learning Environment

Article excerpt

Introduction

Peer learning is a kind of cooperative learning approach, which is a two-way reciprocal learning activity (Boud, Cohen, & Sampson, 2001). Peer learning encourages meaningful learning, which essentially involves learners teaching, as well as learning from each other. There is extensive substantiation for the fact that peer learning involves more than just a sharing of ideas, knowledge and experiences. Peer learning in fact, encompasses a wide gamut of actions, wherein students intervene with their partners to correct, inform, cut off conversation, initiate play, and communicate their vision (Boud, 2001; Sinclaire, 2005). Peer learning can occur both informally and formally. Informal peer learning occurs when students discuss their assignments, lectures, and projects in casual social settings; whereas formal peer learning occurs when group work is explicitly required during course delivery. Peer learning has been proven to promote lifelong learning and is linked to generic capabilities of teamwork and interpersonal skills that employers view in a very positive light (O. S. Tan, 2003).

With the rapid development of the Internet in the mid 1990s, Information Technology (IT) has presented the world a new arena for learning and teaching, predominantly, as a bridge to facilitate peer learning. Various communication channels such as e-mails, wikis, online chats and discussion forums, provide a simple and convenient arena for a single user or for multiple users to discuss a range of subjects, asynchronously or synchronously. Internet exchanges are highly flexible and convenient as compared to other means of communication, such as face-to-face or telephone communication. Messages can be stored and retrieved easily at the discretion of users without requiring sophisticated software. Learners from different backgrounds and diverse locations can share their own learning experiences and yet generate ideas systematically, in order to provide solutions to different problems in the learning process. Lipponen (2002) has summarized how IT can enhance learning by: (1) allowing students to represent their own and others' ideas and share their expertise in text; (2) eliminating time and space constraints; (3) sharing discourse spaces and distributed interaction that offer multiple perspectives for students with varying knowledge and competencies, which can offer greater opportunities to share and solicit knowledge; (4) allowing time for participants to reflect through asynchronous communication; and (5) providing the database, which allows the knowledge to be shared and revisited.

The effectiveness of on-line peer collaborative learning has been confirmed by various studies. For instance, children are able to greatly increase their computer proficiency (Hyun, 2005); students can discuss varied issues in greater depth and their critical thinking skills are considerably enhanced in the process (S. C. Tan, Turgeon, & Johansson, 2001); and learners' levels of involvement and incentives to learn have also increased significantly with a wider and more complete understanding of the subject knowledge (Eleuterio & Bortolozzi, 2004). However, there are some who dispute this fact and opine that peer learning is just "sharing ignorance" (Sfard & Kieran, 2001; Sinclaire, 2005) and that high achievers are not able to learn from each other (Liu & Tsai, 2008).

There are innumerable successful published cases of the use of technology to support learning. Some are for teachers for their professional development (Parr & Ward, 2005; Treweren & Lai, 2001); while others focus on the K-12 school context (Barron et al., 1995; Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996; Stahl, 2004; Turvey, 2006). Yet we find that not much research has been accomplished in the area of teacher education. Indeed, a number of studies have indicated that teacher education does not adequately prepare teachers to teach with technology (Pope, Hare, & Howard, 2002; Selinger, 2001) and in order to successfully implement this, it is suggested that teacher education systems should integrate content, pedagogy and technology (Hughes, 2005; Koehler, Mishra, & Yahya, 2007). …

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