125. Peer-Led Team Learning

Many studies have found that peer-led team learning is effective in helping students learn. In this episode, Dr. Christina Winterton joins us to discuss her study of the factors that result in more productive relationships between peer leaders and the students they work with. Christina has returned to SUNY Oswego as a full time visiting professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and was previously the Associate Director of the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program at Lemoyne College.

Show Notes

  • Julia Snyder, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Science Teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University
  • Jason R. Wiles, Associate Professor of Biology and Science Teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University
  • Peter Arcidiacono (2020) 122. Differential Grading Policies. Tea for Teaching Podcast, February 26th.
  • Student Assessment of their Learning Gains (SALG)
  • Michelle Miller, Director of the First Year Learning Initiative, Professor of Psychological Sciences, and President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University.
  • Winterton, C. I., Dunk, R. D., & Wiles, J. R. (2020). Peer-led team learning for introductory biology: relationships between peer-leader relatability, perceived role model status, and the potential influences of these variables on student learning gains. Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Science Education Research, 2(1), 1-9.
  • Ryan Dunk, Graduate Student in Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University.


John: Many studies have found that peer-led team learning is effective in helping students learn. In this episode, we discuss a study of the factors that result in more productive relationships between peer leaders and the students they work with.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together, we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.


Fiona: My name is Fiona Coll. I teach in the Department of English and Creative Writing here at SUNY Oswego and this is my turn to sit in as a guest host.

John: Our guest today is Dr. Christina Winterton. Christina has returned to SUNY Oswego as a full-time visiting professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and was previously the Associate Director of the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program at Lemoyne College. Welcome, Christina.

Christina: Hi, thank you for having me.

Fiona: Our teas today are:

Christina: I am drinking green tea infused with raspberry, pomegranate, and strawberry.

Fiona: Amazing. I am drinking Tazo’s Refresh Mint tea with a wink.

John: And I am drinking Republic of Tea’s Spring Cherry Green tea. We’ve invited you here today to discuss the dissertation research that you’ve done on peer-led team learning in an introductory biology class. Can you first describe what is meant by peer-led team learning?

Christina: Sure. Peer-led team learning is an active learning technique that typically gets implemented in courses where there’s going to be a high enrollment of students, so a lot of the introductory sciences. I specifically helped with the peer-led team learning at Syracuse University. So the intro to bio course there had between 600 and 700 students for the first semester, and then it went to about 500/400 for the second semester. So with all those students, we still had two lecture periods. So all those students were in one of two lectures. So to supplement the lecture, we found a bunch of research on PLTL, and they implemented peer-led team learning at Syracuse University. And what it is, is it takes students who have recently and successfully completed that introductory biology course, they become peer leaders. So, they need to get a B plus or higher in the course, but then they also have to enroll in a one-credit course with a learning specialist. And our learning specialist at SU is Dr. Julia Snyder, who actually was a huge factor in implementing PLTL at all with Dr. Jason Wiles, who is the professor of intro to bio. So, the premise of peer-led learning or PLTL is you take the student who just recently and successfully completed the course, you give them a course about how to be a leader. So, it covers pedagogy, Bloom’s Taxonomy, different teaching styles. And then after they meet with the learning specialists, they are on their own to lead a 55-minute section of the supplemental peer-led team learning course. So, they get modules that they work through with the students. And it’s different than a teaching assistant or a faculty because, first of all, there are no grades involved. The peer leader’s not grading the students, they’re just there to help, and a big difference, a big key, is that the peer leaders are not provided answer keys to these modules. So, they’re truly acting like a fellow learner, a fellow student. They’re relying on what they remember, what their notes are, and they’re just facilitating the conversation. And as a group, the current students are working with this peer leader to construct new original answers and in that they become friends, and they talk more about their feelings and what they really think of certain aspects and how to work through it, and the peer leader is able to relate and share stories because they just took the course.

Fiona: Could I ask some very practical questions about how this works?

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: So how big are the groups, the peer groups?

Christina: So each group will have six to eight current students with a peer leader.

Fiona: And these are sections that are scheduled along with the massive lecture courses.

Christina: Yeah. Yep, they’re supplemental. So it’s a co-enrollment.

Fiona: And they’re required?

Christina: They are not required. The literature breaks it down with different incentives for different universities to have the peer leaders and the students both choose to be in peer-led team learning. So, for the leaders, typically it’s a learning credit or a leadership credit, and it’s a resume builder. It’s a way for some of the students who are going to maybe take an MCAT to refresh themselves on the material. And then for the students, a lot of the times it’s connected to maybe a portion of extra credit. So that’s the different carrots.

Fiona: Yeah, that’s fascinating. And I want to talk very, very much about the way you assessed this program, but could you give us maybe an example of a teaching technique or something that the peer leader might learn in the one-credit course you were mentioning they’re a part of?

Christina: Sure. I was lucky enough to be able to fill in for Dr. Snyder sometimes when she was out. One of my favorite lessons that we did was as the instructor for the day, I stood up in front of the classroom and all the leaders all had different pieces of paper. And I said, “Okay, listen to what I say and do it as I say it.” And then I said aloud instructions, “Fold the top of the paper to the right towards the center, make a triangle on the side, do it again with the other side,” and I verbally gave them instructions on how to fold a paper airplane. Well, obviously, that didn’t go so great. So I said, “Okay, keep that to the side.” I didn’t even tell them what they were making. They were like “What am I doing?” So they put it to the side. The next thing, I gave them a handout that it said “Step one, fold this” and it was just written instructions. And then for the final round, I put it on the doc cam and folded it with them. And then we looked at the three different outcomes, and we talked about different strategies used to teach or explain. “Did everybody do it the best the last time? Did maybe somebody do it better the second time? Is that right? Is that wrong?” And we talked about different ways to convey the same information to different groups of students when they’re actually leading a session.

Fiona: And do the peer leaders who are forming a cohort of their own essentially, as they’re going through this…

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: Do they report back through the semester with questions or problems, does that fold into this?

Christina: Yes, I know that Dr. Snyder, as part of the course, she had them keep journals. And so they would reflect on the session. And each leader really only had one group of students. So they knew their names, they knew their habits, they were able to write really good reflective journals and keep notes on “They liked this module or they didn’t like this module. You know, they really liked the debate that we did this week.” Or next week they’d say, you know, “Those concept mappings?…the students struggled, but I think I personally saw them learning even though they didn’t.” So we were able to get really good insight on the models just from those journals.

John: There’s a lot of research that shows that peer instruction can be really effective. What makes it so effective?

Christina: What makes it so effective is actually what my research honed in on, because I was obviously a member of this Biology Education Research Group at SU and I saw Dr. Snyder and Dr. Wiles doing all these really cool things with PLTL. And I know it got results in the form of the research coming out was saying the students enrolled in PLTL had higher grades than their non-PLTL peers, because like you asked, it’s not mandatory. So, some students were in it, and some students weren’t. And you’re able to see the difference in final grades. And I just wanted to know “Why,” right? “What is it about the session? Is it the environment? Is it that there’s no faculty? That it wasn’t in a lecture hall? (It was in a small library room.)” So I just wanted to figure out what about the interaction made it so effective, and I thought like you’d ask that it would have to have something to do with the dynamic between a student-to-student rather than a student-to-faculty. So I was reading up on some literature trying to find out in particular for the STEM fields, what makes peers help each other more. And that led me to some research on role models and relatability and seeing someone you can relate to be successful or do something you want to do. So that led me to develop my question of “Is the PLTL setting enough to leave a student calling their peer leader a role model by the end of this? And what makes up a role model? And did it have an effect?”

Fiona: Don’t keep us in suspense.

John: Although maybe we want to save the answer until a little bit later.

Christina: That’s another question. Yeah.

John: So make sure you listen to the end of the podcast to find out what happened. [LAUGHTER] So you talk about, in your dissertation, the importance of education in the STEM fields. Why is it important to focus our attention on STEM programs?

Christina: So it’s important to focus on STEM programs in particular during the first year or so of college when the students are choosing their major and deciding if they want to pursue STEM after they get a sample of it because the highest rate of students leaving STEM comes between the freshman and sophomore year. So a cause could be what they perceive to be an unwelcoming, large intro course. They come from high school where it’s a smaller class, students know each other, the teachers know them, then you go to the lecture hall and nobody sees you and attendance doesn’t matter, you know. So we can make it feel welcoming and inclusive and that your voice is being heard. And if you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask it and other people struggle as well, then maybe we can keep them and say, “Okay, I still want to pursue this. I got through first year and now I’ll be able to choose an elective that hones in on my specific interests.” So, we particularly don’t want to scare them away with large intro courses, because the overall number of degrees conferred in STEM in the United States is lower than China and Russia and other countries comparable to us.

Fiona: And we also know that the struggle to complete let’s say, STEM is not evenly distributed across different sorts of student groups. That attrition that you described…

Christina: Absolutely.

Fiona: is exaggerated in certain underrepresented groups.

Christina: Absolutely, actually, again, we’ll speak to some of the amazing people I was able to work with while I was at SU in that Biology Education Research Group, one of their studies specifically showed that peer-led team learning closes the gap between underrepresented minorities and their peers in the course. So peer-led team learning can provide this avenue to level out the playing field.

Fiona: Did you have any experience with peer-led learning yourself in your own education?

Christina: I didn’t actually, no.

Fiona: Everything you’ve described makes so much sense. Motivating students, making learning spaces accessible to students.

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: And I can’t help but think what would be different about my educational path if I had had peers involved in the process in some way?

Christina: Yeah. And I actually went to SU myself, and this opportunity wasn’t available. So it’s fairly new.

John: I started doing it after quite a few years ago, maybe 12/13 years ago, I went to a conference. And I wish I knew who presented this. But there was an experiment, and I believe it was a chemistry class, where they introduced your instructors and they measured the students’ performance for everyone, including the TAs. There was a larger group, and they had larger sections, but they had graduate TAs and they were using undergraduate TAs for the first time. And they measured the increase in performance of students from the beginning to the end, including the TAs, and what they found is among the undergraduate students in the class, the graduate student TAs, and the undergraduate TAs, the undergraduate TAs actually learned the most, and the students who work with the undergraduate TAs had larger learning gains than those who work with the graduate TAs, which is very consistent with the types of things that are being found here. There have been quite a few studies, and I wish I knew some of the citations off-hand, that have found similar effects. It’s interesting. I should also note, in a podcast that we released on February 26, we talked a little bit more about the dropout rate where we specifically looked at the gender difference in dropout rates, and that women are disproportionately likely to leave the STEM fields in response to the relatively lower grades that they receive in the STEM field compared to other disciplines, even though their grades were higher than males in the classes, at least in that study. So the lower performance that many students experience in the STEM fields does seem to be a pretty significant deterrent for, as you said, underrepresented groups. Also, for first-gen students, it seems to be pretty significant in a number of studies. So we’re losing a lot of people who could be really successful in these fields, and as you noted, we’re falling behind other countries. And as we close our borders to the people coming from other countries that could seriously hurt us in the STEM disciplines if we don’t bring more people through here or eliminate some of the barriers to foreign students entering.

Christina: Actually as part of my research, when I was delving into some of the psychology research that came up because I was looking at perception and role models, so we went past biology and education into a little bit of the psych realm, and there was one study that just laid it out really clearly like exactly what you’re saying. And it just got me so interested because their study specifically aimed to put students in a situation and give them exposure to things that would specifically counteract the two prevalent STEM stereotypes and identified the two prevalent STEM stereotypes as: 1. STEM is for white European males, and 2. STEM is only for those who are innately gifted at it. So, that really caught my attention because as an advisor, and as a professor, the students have come up to me a lot of times in STEM courses and said, “I got a bad grade on this. I don’t think I’m good enough at this. I studied for 50 hours that week.” And they always put an emphasis on how hard they had to work to get their grade as if it’s a bad thing. And it really just speaks to that that they truly think that people who are successful in the fields are just born with it and that even your professors never had to put in work. So now after reading that article, I always try to directly counteract those stereotypes for them as well and say, you know, “I have to put in a lot of work to maintain too, you know, it’s normal. And it’s not just for those people and don’t give up, everybody has to put in work, even though they don’t maybe show it or maybe you don’t see that.”

John: And that’s where the peers can be really useful because they just went through it. And serving as you said, as that role model, can be really effective in letting them know that this is just normal. This is how we learn.

Christina: Exactly.

Fiona: And I could see how hearing “This is normal, this is how we learn” might resonate very differently, if that comes from a peer than it does from a professor, even if you’re being…

Christina: Definitely

Fiona: entirely sincere and open.

Christina: Definitely, and especially from someone who has no power over their grades, or what’s going to be on the quiz, you know, so if they can just hear it from a peer.

John: And who not only had just been through it, but had been through it successfully and was able to do well in the course.

Christina: Yeah, and if they can share with them, how many hou rs a week they put in and how they prioritized it as well. That’s gonna all lead to part of the finding.

Fiona: You mentioned that you didn’t have any experience with peer-led team learning in your own education.

Christina: Right.

Fiona: Can you tell us a little bit about how you discovered this as a topic? And what made you decide that this is what you wanted to research?

Christina: Sure. So, I actually discovered this because I went to Syracuse University myself, and I was a biology undergraduate. But, then I decided to get a master’s degree in forensic science because the pieces of biology that I enjoyed most were DNA and genetics. So I pursued a Master’s of Forensic Science, and as a graduate student, I was assigned to be a teaching assistant in intro to bio. So I began doing labs, and as I mentioned before, Jason Wiles is the professor of Intro to Bio, so he was my supervisor then and he became my PhD advisor as him and I started agreeing on some teaching strategies and techniques. So, I saw the students as a teaching assistant in the lab. And the lab by itself is such a different feeling than the lecture. I saw 24 students at a time, not 600, so I was able to see that perspective when I was a teaching assistant, and I was giving them weekly quizzes and grades, and they could come to my office hours, and it was like a tutoring type thing. So, I saw that perspective of them. And then they implemented the peer-led team learning. In addition to the lecture in the lab, this became an option. And they started doing research on it, and Dr. Wiles was leading that research. And then when I chose to get my PhD, he still had active projects going on. And I was looking at those results of how come this increases their grades, and this does increase their grades. And then it just made me think: Why?

John: So that brings us to your study, how did you design a study to investigate these issues?

Christina: Alright, I went back and forth on the design for this a lot because a lot of the research was focusing on assessments, quiz grades, test grades throughout the course and final course averages. So, I wanted to include that because I knew that there had been good results as far as a positive benefit for PLTL and you could find this in the grades, in the difference between the grades. So, I knew I want to collect data on the final course grades, which is easy enough. But then I also wanted to hear from the students what they felt PLTL gave them in terms of their learning gains. So I used an instrument called the Student Assessment of Learning Gains. And I had the students fill that out. And I was able to use that to see their learning gains, and you calculate the total learning gains by just adding up all of their different categories. So, you ask them questions on a Likert scale, and then you get the summation, but I knew I wanted to do learning gains rather than just course grade because there’s a lot of different ways to get a good course grade: you could memorize you could just remember from the slides, you could just be a very good test taker and good at multiple choice. So I just wanted to see if they were truly learning and I really was drawn to the SALG because that tested the things that they were able to carry on to upper-level courses like their ability to connect concepts in biology to one another is one of the questions your ability to connect concepts in biology to other courses you’re taking. “How strong do you feel you could explain a biology concept to a family member? How strong do you feel that you could create your own position after reading a graph of results and defend your position of how you interpreted the graph?” So this was testing actual skills and true learning gains, not just their end course grades. So I want to look at both of those factors. So, I gathered up their final course grades, and I got the assessment of their learning gains as well.

Fiona: So, they provided assessments of their own learning gains.

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: And the peer leader?

Christina: So, as I got thinking, like a year into the project, I was thinking, all right, my whole study is testing interactions between the students and student-to-student interactions and what makes a good peer leader. So first, I gave out at the end of the semester, there was a qualitative questionnaire one of the questions asked “Do you consider your peer leader to be a role model in any way? Please explain, yes or no.” So they gave me qualitative data there for why they saw the peer leader to be a role model. But then, as I got thinking that I wanted to do this interaction between them, I thought, why not ask the peer leaders, because this is all the student perception so far, Let’s ask the peer leaders, “Do you consider yourself to be a role model in any way? Yes or no? What makes you a role model to your students? Why do you think you’re not a role model?” And we’re able to look at those two qualitative sets of results and find the discrepancy so that if there is a difference between what the student’s looking for and what the peer leader thinks the student’s looking for, but they’re not providing, we can address that in the leadership course, and say, try to implement these strategies, try to display X, Y, and Z. So, we collected that qualitative data. And then in addition to that, I was also wondering, okay, maybe the student just likes that peer leader, like maybe they’re just a funny person. Maybe they’re just nice. So I thought it would be interesting to see how well the peer leader gets to know the student because as we discussed one of these benefits, this is a very small group of six to eight students, you can spend one-on-one time you see this person every week you talk outside of class. So, I also asked the peer leaders to fill out the Student Assessment of Learning Gains, but ask them to do it in regard to their students. So I said, “Alright, Jane, you had Joe as a student, fill out what you think Joe’s learning gains are.” And then I took Jane’s assessment and compared it to Joe’s assessment and found that the student and peer leader pairings who were closest together had the least amount of differences between their assessments had higher course grades and saw the peer leader to be a role model and relatable and higher learning gains.

Fiona: So very elegantly designed approach to this incredibly thorny, difficult, complex process of learning. And so you’ve essentially got two perspectives on a single student’s experience.

Christina: Yes.

Fiona: From their sense of perception, which is also a fascinating idea. There could be a difference between learning and a student’s perception of learning.

Christina: Right.

Fiona: But by having this very elegant combination…

Christina: And part of what led me to saying, you know, there have been errors in students’ self-reported data before, but perception is valuable, the student perception is valuable. And there are other studies that show if a student perceives themselves to be learning and doing well and happy in a course, they’re going to stay in the discipline despite whatever their final course grade is, and that only helps our retention.

John: But you also said that the people who had the better match that way also had higher course grades as well. So, that seems to validate at least the general nature of that instrument.

Christina: Right.

Fiona: Could we talk about these very interesting concepts, so the idea of being a role model, but also the idea of being relatable?

Christina: Yes. So, originally, the design of the project was on role models because there’s so much literature on role models to support it. So the role model question, the qualitative portion, was asked to the students and the peer leaders. But then, as I was analyzing the results of role model, relatability got mentioned so often that it almost seemed like it was a stepping stone to role model status, that to become a role model, you had to be relatable. So, I didn’t have those students anymore, so I did a follow up question to the peer leaders because we still had access to the peer leaders, their course was a little bit longer. So I was able to ask the peer leaders to write about relatability and how relatability came into context with their relationship with the students. So, for the relatability factor, we have the qualitative answers from the peer leaders. And for the role model factor, we have it from the students and the peers, but students were mentioning relatability in a lot of the role model answers.

Fiona: And what does relatability mean in this context?

Christina: So relatability, I was able to categorize into a few different codes and categories. So the students were calling the peer leader relatable. Sometimes it was very clear, they would say the phrase “In my shoes, you know, they were just in my shoes, they know exactly what I’m going through, they’re in my shoes.” Other times, they attributed it to a common career goal. So these are all bio majors. They’re all “I want to be a doctor and my peer leader is taking the MCAT. That’s what I’m going to do in the next year or two. So, I can relate to her because I see her doing this thing that I’m about to do.” What was interesting is that if there was a commonality there, it would always be a shared attainable goal. Like a “In the near future, I’m gonna do that.” It was neat to see that and it’s definitely an attainable goal of the students. Sometimes when you think role model, you think, “Oh, they need to be a famous celebrity and they’re rich,” so it was neat to see the students just saying “They’re a role model because they’re succeeding in what I see to be a hard path that I also want to do.”

Fiona: They’re a role model because “I want to be there next year.”

Christina: Yes. And I relate to them.

John: So we have all that evidence about the effectiveness of your instruction. But this is discovering why it’s working or what specifically allows it to work.

Christina: Right.

John: So, what does this suggest that in terms of developing your lead team leader program, what should that training focus on?

Christina: I would recommend that we share the results with the peer leaders and show them that in a lot of the student responses, when they were saying what they thought made the peer leader a role model, or the peer leader relatable, a chunk of them did say that they got a good grade in this course, and that’s what I want to do, and that’s my goal is just to pass. But, there was a lot more in depth answers than I think maybe I was even expecting, and it went into things like “They were just kind, they were nice. I could tell that they cared if I was learning, they stopped and adjusted the course to my pace,” and that’s a huge benefit that we don’t get in the lecture halls when you just have to keep going, and you’re not able to assess “Are all 600 students with me? Do they all understand?” And a lot of the responses just came up that there was a caring peer leader who truly cared if they were learning, and talked to them and asked them. So, I think that showing the peer leaders that would be a little bit of a difference, because I think a lot of the times it just gets focused on “Well, I did really well in this course.” So, here’s what I think, that there’s so many personality attributes that go into it.

Fiona: I keep thinking of Michelle Miller’s line, that teachers are professional motivators, fundamentally the role that teachers play in drawing out the learning potential in a student in some way. And this seems to point to that in some sense, that what matters the most to the students… yes, the content and skill development matter… but that, in fact, there was some other piece to the puzzle.

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: That might be effective or emotional.

Christina: And motivate is a word that was frequently used, so much so that I used it as a code for the qualitative piece.

John: And I understand you just heard that a paper from this study is going to be published. We’ll include a link to that in the show notes, and we’ll list it as forthcoming until the paper becomes available.

Christina: Just got accepted. Yes, thank you.

John: Congratulations.

Christina: Thank you. The first paper shows the quantitative aspect, that students had a difference in either perceived learning gains or final course grade, if they saw their peer leader to be relatable and a role model. And then part two is coming up with the qualitative research that explains what those definitions were in the eyes of the students.

Fiona: I have a question that I think goes a little beyond the scope of what you were focused on. But it comes back to this idea of what being relatable means. And I’m thinking about that gap, that the attrition rate or the achievement gap or however you want to talk about that for certain sorts of underrepresented groups. Does your research suggest that the identity of the peer leaders might matter? We know representation matters. We know that this is part of envisioning yourself in a discipline or a field process that your research is getting at. And could you imagine the approach to setting up a peer-led team learning approach could be useful in like specific interventions?

Christina: Actually, that’s a really interesting question that you brought up, because a lot of the research points to that. And then I was expecting to see that, but it was the only time that that was really brought up about the identity of the peer leader was out of all the responses I had, I believe six times the student just said, “Because they’re my age” and interestingly, two times when the identity of the peer leader was brought up for the “No, they’re not a role model,” the answer was “Because they’re my age.” So, I thought that was a really neat finding, that some of the students are viewing age as this positive thing. And other students are using it to say, “No, they can’t be a role model to me. They’re my age,” and other students are saying, “Yes, they’re a role model, because they’re so successful, and they’re just my age.” So, I thought that was really interesting, and I’m not sure, there wasn’t any answers about ethnicity or even gender, and I’m just wondering if the students maybe felt a little like restricted because it was a written out response, and if I just looked at the data of the ethnicities of each group and did a comparison there, if maybe I would find something. But I didn’t go that far in this experiment, but it would be really neat to do so in the future.

John: That could be an interesting follow-up, just to see if the gender and race of the team leader affected the performance of people within the group if they’ve matched or if they diverged.

Christina: Yeah, I agree. I did look at if STEM major and non-STEM major, because in semester one of peer-led team learning, it could be used for any student. So, even if you’re not a bio major, you could be using it to satisfy your science elective. So, I was trying to see if there was a trend with the students who were STEM majors getting more out of it than the non-STEM majors, and we didn’t see a significant difference.

John: Interesting.

Fiona: You mentioned the fascinating finding that when the peer leaders’ assessment of the students’ learning and the students’ assessment of the students’ learning matched, that there was a definite correlation with the overall performance. Did you pull out any information about when there was a mismatch? Or was there anything interesting or useful about the opposite scenario?

Christina: Yes. The peer leader responses, in general, were always a little bit more informative and longer than the student responses. A lot of the time when there was a mismatch, the peer leader would leave a note at the end or something that would say, “This is what I think. But so and so didn’t come to class very much.” In those cases, there was a big discrepancy where interestingly, the student would say, “Oh, I learned a lot, high learning gains,” and the peer leader would put them at a low learning gain, and then there would be a big discrepancy, and I would try to see why and the peer leaders would say, “I never saw them, so I don’t know if they learned or not.” My research group at SU, one of my good friends, Ryan Dunk, who was actually on this paper that just got published, he helped me with some statistics for this. Another question that came up was, “Could it possibly just be that some peer leaders care more and know their students more?” But, we were able to find that there was no significant difference between the peer leaders or the section, so time of day didn’t matter and peer leader didn’t matter, so that was neat to find out too.

Fiona: Fascinating.

John: You mention that the participation in the peer-led team leader program was optional for the students.

Christina: Yes.

John: What proportion of the students in the classes participated in that?

Christina: I can answer that for the semester of the data set that I’m working with, it was after you eliminated students who either didn’t consent to research, or were under 18 and couldn’t be included into research. Out of around 650 of them, 241 participated in my study. So, that means that at least 241 were in peer-led team learning.

John: and it could have been more…

Christina: And it could have been a few more.

John: …if they chosenot to participate or were under eighteen.

Fiona: Are you currently, are you still crunching the numbers and figuring things out from all the data you currently have?

Christina: There’s a good three more publications that are all in progress in various stages. Review, sending it to a partner, and working with my advisor still.

Fiona: Yeah.

Christina: He’s still doing different projects too, though they’re still being studied.

Fiona: Do you think peer-led team learning can work across disciplines?

Christina: I do, and a lot of research was shown to back that. And it’s actually pretty interesting because it started in a chemistry class, and then other sciences picked it up, biology and physics. But, it’s expanded into mathematics, and computer science has had success. And other studies also supported the finding that it would work in smaller classes too. So, it could work at universities, it could work at colleges, it could work at private institutions. So, it just looks like it can work across the board.

Fiona: There’s still room to find out, room to experiment.

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: We’d like to finish by asking you “What comes next?”

Christina: I think if I don’t answer that I’ll get those three publications out that my advisor is gonna… [LAUGHTER] I’m gonna hear about it. So all the publications.

Fiona: We very, very much look forward to the results from those various publications.

Christina: Thank you.

John: This was fascinating.

Christina: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. It’s such a privilege.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer. Editing assistance provided by Brittany Jones and Savannah Norton.