Student teachers, like pupils, do better when they teach each other
Strathclyde University has also found that that exam results increased by "significant" margins when the same students were encouraged to take more control of their own learning.
The research took place with first-year BEd students. One compulsory module, which students had found difficult in previous years, underwent a "radical" re-design based around peer assessment.
Each tutor group was divided into smaller study groups of no more than five students who worked together on core tasks. This included collaboration on the final task, which also involved individual responses and a 50-question multiple-choice exam. Formative assessment was used to make reflection and self-regulation integral to learning.
Questionnaires completed by 115 students showed that peer feedback was preferred to that from tutors. Some 72 per cent reported that collaborative working helped their learning. However, while 68 per cent believed peer feed-back was helpful in this setting, only 51 per cent found feedback from tutors relevant to their work - a figure described as "disappointing" by researchers Mary Welsh and Magnus Ross.
"This may be interpreted as a measure of the effectiveness of the methodology in developing self-regulating reflective skills," they said in a report. "There are implications for tutor involvement, and it can be argued that this outcome is beneficial for a system of higher education where classes are increasingly large and diverse, and where tutors face increasing pressures and demands on their time."
Summative final exam scores, meanwhile, rose by 11 per cent, which independent analysis deemed "statistically significant".
Feedback on the peer-assessment approach was nevertheless "disappointing". Only 41 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that it was appropriate, amid concerns that some students were not "pulling their weight". Students appeared to favour a more traditional approach with more preparation for the final summative exam.
These opinions were, however, expressed before exam scores were known, and 89 per cent of students reported that collaborative tasks improved their skills of reflection.
The findings were presented at the recent annual conference of the British Educational Research Association, held at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University. The research was part of the Re-Engineering Assessment Practices in Scottish Higher Education project, better known as REAP.