As librarians, teachers, and observers, we know students can often learn more effectively from peer instruction. They trust their fellow students and seek their knowledge and approval. Beyond using these support systems in the tutoring or mentor model, peer-to-peer teaching and group work can be extremely useful in the classroom. As part of a university-wide push at Otterbein to offer these peer interactions, I have employed different strategies in using peer instruction and group work in an Honors Thesis Writing class and a First Year Seminar class (FYS).
Much of the literature in this area supports the effectiveness of peer instruction. According to Bodemer (2014), “Even in a formalized classroom setting, the undergraduate session leader is more apt than librarians to use language understood by student participants” (p. 165). He has also specified many advantages to peers learning together, and in fact peer instruction is already being implemented throughout much of higher education.
Because of the exciting nature of the first semester of college, I felt as though the FYS course would be a good time to integrate this model. First-year students welcome every opportunity to network and meet new peers. In a library class session, it is important to leverage that excitement and gear it toward familiarizing new students with the library. For the FYS courses, I run a quasi-library scavenger hunt using Google Docs and LibGuides. The students are split into teams of two or three and have their own Google Doc to record their answers. Each team is directed to the LibGuide, which links out to their designated Google Doc (View example of group sheets in libguide). This takes the assignment off the paper and lets the students interact with one another. I purposely give no instruction prior to the class activity and encourage them to explore the website and see what they can find, offering my support along the way. When it comes to website navigation, millennials are generally tech savvy, and I find they are able to remember more of the information when they discover it on their own.
After the students are given ample time to explore the building and website as a group, we come back together to go over the answers. Instead of me giving the instruction, however, I have each group show their peers what they learned. Again, this takes the instruction out of my hands and lets the students teach one another. I have found this approach to be quite successful in the classroom, and faculty enjoy the interaction as well. Students are physically getting around the library and stretching their instruction skills as they are in the beginning stages of their college career. Additionally, Otterbein heavily pushes peer instruction and mentoring in multiple areas of the university, so I am integrating the university-supported model.
With the Juniors in my Honors classes, I follow a similar structure, but the assignment and instruction are different. These students have already visited me, so they are familiar with the library. They are split into five groups but instead of a scavenger hunt, each group is assigned a multi-disciplinary database. Because the class is made of up of students in every discipline, it is important to keep the research relevant to everyone. The students are given, via Google Docs, a group of questions about their database. As a group, the students explore and discuss various pros and cons about the databases, navigational differences, and general observations. Then they present their findings to the rest of the class. This includes live demonstrations of search strategies and key findings they discovered during their research. Similar to the FYS class, they receive little direction from me, which allows them to more effectively understand the process of using the database.
I’ve used these models and assignments multiples times in various courses, and every time I have received positive written and oral feedback from the students and faculty. I find the students welcome the active learning that takes place in a group setting and the way it varies from other library sessions. This instruction method continues to evolve as I work out different formats, but, overall, these methods have worked effectively and I will continue using the peer instruction/group model in the library instruction classroom.
Bodemer, B. B. (2014). They CAN and they SHOULD: Undergraduates providing peer reference and instruction. College & Research Libraries, 75(2), 162-178.
O’Kelly, M. A., Garrison, J., Merry, B., & Torreano, J. (2015). Building a peer-learning service for students in an academic library. Portal: Libraries & the Academy, 15(1), 163-182. doi:10.1353/pla.2015.0000
Jessica Crossfield-McIntosh is the Reference Services Coordinator at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org