Students perform better academically when their doubts and questions are clarified and answered by peers, rather than by their teachers, reveals a new study. The research was published in the International Journal of Educational Research.
The researchers found that University students who were given a rationale for why learning is important by actors posing as young professionals, that is, people who appeared similar to them, wrote more effective essays. They got a significantly better final grade than students who were given the same rationale from the course instructor.
‘Teachers were exceptionally good at getting cold facts across, while peers seemed to understand and gain access into an identification process.’
"These findings suggest that what instructors were good at was getting across cold facts, while the peers seemed to be tapping into an identification process. In other words, as a student, I can identify with my peers and imagine myself using the course material in the same way they do. This gives the material meaning and a sense of purpose that goes beyond memorization. When I hear a peer's story, it connects to the story I am telling myself about who I want to be in the future," said Cary Roseth, co-author, associate professor of educational psychology.
The study was conducted in an online college course, the first to investigate the effects of peer and instructor rationales on student outcomes over an entire semester, let alone in an online setting.
For the experiment, students in an MSU introductory-level educational psychology course, which is required of all teacher education students, were randomly assigned to receive either the peer rationale, the instructor rationale or no rationale for why the course was important and beneficial to their potential careers as teachers.
The peer and instructor rationales were scripted and identical. When it came to final grades, students who received the peer rationale scored an average of 92 percent, significantly higher than the 86 percent scored by students who received the rationale from the instructor.
Interestingly, students who received no rationale averaged 90 percent for a final grade, which is still higher than those who received the instructor rationale.
"We found that receiving the instructor rationale led to lower final grades than both the peer rationale and no rationale conditions. This gives support to the idea that, motivationally, the fact that instructors control grades, tell the students what do to, and so on, may be working against their efforts to increase their students' appreciation of why the class is important," said Roseth.