A question of peer learning with Peerwise!

There are many methods employed by tutors to encourage students to think critically and develop their understanding of a subject, whilst also taking ownership for their own learning.

Over recent months a freely available web tool called Peerwise has been gaining credibility amongst the Higher Education community for its ability to support peer to peer learning and that is also popular with students. It’s a web based tool that has been developed by Paul Denny at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Peerwise works by allowing a tutor to set up a space in which students can design multi-choice questions (MCQs), based around their assessment, that other students can then answer and evaluate. The tutor oversees and moderates this process but it is entirely driven by student activity and feedback, as they build a repository of MCQs.

Clearly MCQs aren’t suitable for all subjects but it seems to have immediate applications for science, maths and medical subjects alongside subjects such as psychology, where questions often have a definitive right answer. And the Peerwise Community site has put together a host of recently published papers based on the concepts of peer learning and assessment, question generation activities and enhancing student engagement through self directed study.

One of the key strengths of the Peerwise tool is the inclusion of gamification concepts such as leaderboards, scoring and badges to engage students in the process.

As the Peerwise site describes, the process of designing good MCQs and evaluating these, including writing good distractor answers and providing explanations for answers, promotes deep learning and engages higher order cognitive skills, whilst also focussing students on the intended learning outcomes. By monitoring this process, tutors can see where misunderstandings occur or identify missing essential knowledge that allows them make effective interventions and provide timely feedback. Equally, the ability to manage this activity online facilitates it’s use with large classes and larger numbers of participants has the advantage of providing students access to a greater range of questions and opportunities for feedback.

If you’re thinking of trying this tool out, you’ll need to consider the appropriateness of using Peerwise against the guidelines for external tools. And tutors and students would need to set up separate accounts in Peerwise to use the system.

To review the site and see how it works, there are some useful support videos and information, including testimonial videos from staff and students who’ve used it. Looking at the Guide for students should give you a good impression of how it works.

If you are interested exploring the potential of Peerwise or would like to find out how existing tools such as the discussion board in studentcentral can be designed to support and enhance peer learning, please get in touch with your Learning Technologies Adviser.


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