Peer-led Discussion Groups and Active Learning Enhance Student Involvement and Success

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Dr. Pamela Sandstrom and Dr. Elena Pravosudova of the University of Nevada, Reno explore and share examples of how peer-led discussion groups and active learning can enhance student involvement and success.

Dr. Pamela Sandstrom, University of Nevada, Reno
Dr. Elena Pravosudova, University of Nevada, Reno

Transforming our large-enrollment biology courses to include substantial active learning components has been a slow, but rewarding process that continues to improve the quality of student learning at our university. Starting in 2008, optional peer-led weekly discussion groups (DGs) helped create a community of peer leaders and enhanced the learning experience of our students. To ensure that all students benefited from the DG program, we changed our introductory biology and genetics courses to a hybrid format that included: (1) a significant online component, (2) two fifty-minute face-to-face interactive lectures, and (3) a fifty-minute mandatory discussion group (MDG) each week. Watching online videos and completing pre-class assessments help our students come to class prepared for engaged learning. Undergraduate Learning Assistants (LA) enhance active learning during the weekly fifty-minute “lectures” by facilitating activities in Learning Catalytics, a student engagement and classroom intelligence response system. These multiple modes of instruction allow us to recognize and embrace unique characteristics of the diverse group of students we have in our classrooms. With active learning approaches enhanced by Learning Assistants, we continue to provide growth opportunities for multiple types of learners, as well as offer pathways for academic, personal, and professional success for our peer leaders.