Collaborative Learning: Ideas for Preparing TAs or Peer Facilitators for Their Important Roles

9 Apr

Some instructors would like to institute collaborative learning or peer-led problem solving in sessions outside of the large lecture section. Due to the size of many classes at institutions like the University of Minnesota, that means that these sessions are likely facilitated by graduate and/or undergraduate TAs. Providing support and training for these facilitators and ensuring that sessions are being led in a consistent manner can be challenging for instructors.

Colleagues at the University of Rochester and Northwestern University use a model for supporting TAs or peer mentors which focus around the following elements:

  1. Collaboration between education specialists and instructors
  2. On-going support rather than a one-shot pre-semester training
  3. Training in both pedagogy and required content knowledge

These elements seem to produce competent and confident facilitators who can effectively lead peer learning exercises with the added benefit of instructors and education specialists exchanging best practices and experiences.

I’ve been drawing on articles about this model of training for a collaboration with an instructor who oversees a large introductory lab course. The lab is an inquiry-guided lab where students design their own experiments to test various substances. We hope that this sort of approach will help prepare and support TAs in guiding students along their design process rather than telling them what they need to do.

To peruse and learn more about:

  • preparing and supporting peer mentors in introductory courses (including a sample syllabus), see “A Course To Prepare Peer Leaders To Implement a Student-Assisted Learning Method” Rochester model for training peer leaders
  • supporting peer mentors in an upper level course, see “An Innovative Selection and Training Program for Problem-based Learning (PBL) Workshop Leaders in Biochemistry” Platt et al (2003) BAMBED, and
  • incorporating elements of leadership skill development among peer mentors, see “Becoming a Leader Along the Way: Embedding Leadership Training Into a Large-Scale Peer-Learning Program in the STEM Disciplines” Micari et al – Developing Leadership.
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