Finding ways of engaging learners while maximising their learning, without negatively impacting on either staff or student workloads and that fit constrained institutional budgets is no small task, but the Student-Generated Content for Learning: Enhancing Engagement, Feedback and Performance project based at the University of Edinburgh is evaluating the use of technology that seems to do just that.
PeerWise, developed by the Department of Computer Science at the University of Auckland, is a free system designed not only to allow students to develop and publish their own questions but also to support a variety of social activities around those questions. As well as simply answering others’ questions to test their own knowledge, students can also comment on questions, rate them and develop discussions around questions. Of even more value is the ability for students to develop their own questions which – as the site explains – provides a number of pedagogic benefits to learners. Students rapidly developed a strong sense of ownership of the online space and actively maintained and nurtured it, developing a very strongly supportive environment based on collaboration and shared responsibility for information accuracy and quality.
Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the system is the way in which it can be used outside scheduled class times, as it is an inherently asynchronous model of dialogue and interaction. This has proven particularly effective in supporting distance and placement students as it provides a very real sense of engagement with their peers and with their academic studies even when out of regular physical contact.
Edinburgh’s use of PeerWise was initially piloted in undergraduate courses in Physics and Biology, and it is being extended to a wider range of courses and subject areas as part of this evaluation work. In order to engage as many students as possible a small amount of the overall course mark was allocated to activity in PeerWise, with student-authored questions forming the basis for a question on the final examination of the course. Scaffolding activities around question design encouraged students to consider their own misunderstandings of course material and resulted in exceptionally high quality materials reflecting the depth of learning and quality of engagement.
The project’s website is a rich source of resources around this work while the team’s blog provides reflection on the day-to-day progress of the project. SGC4L is funded by JISC as part of the Assessment and Feedback programme Strand B.