Peer Learning in an online environment

Peer Learning is a rather abstract term. As you may have noticed, my blog postings have been pretty scarce lately. This is because my workload has primarily been focused on the development of a competency-based digital badge curriculum for our online MS program. Previously, students waited until the end of their program to demonstrate competence in ID related standards. After recent program evaluations, we discovered a need for learners to demonstrate competence while going through the program (not at the end). It is no surprise that many graduate programs utilize a portfolio at the end of their programs to ensure students are prepared and ready for graduation - but has learning occurred since those documents were originally created? What happens when a student gets to the end of their program and does not have the level of understanding that we want from our graduates? While there are many issues, implementing portfolios well can encourage the reflective process, peer and self-evaluation, and assessment. Therefore, why are we waiting until the end of a program to have student work on these skills? We are no longer waiting.

The Evaluation Process: We have changed our program to teach students self evaluation (more in depth than before). Does their work stand up to what the ID field requires? If not, what needs to be done? After a through self evaluation, the students pass along their work to peer review where students are required to evaluate each others' work to not only improve it for professional use but to understand how competencies can be interpreted from others with a different point of view. For example, complying with organizational and professional code of ethics can be wildly important for one company while another may not have organizational ethics codes to follow. How does a student need to demonstrate that they comply with these codes of ethics?

This evaluation process has been a huge change in our "typical" online courses. First, most of our courses are heavily focused on weekly discussion and project-based assignments. With the introduction of these competency-based digital badges, students are required to work through the process on their own. They pick any badge and submit materials (course or work related documents) for peer review. After peer review, they modify their documents and submit for the badge. This process repeats again and again until the student has completed all of the badges. While an instructor is present, the course is really ran on peer learning. Students work together to solve issues in their own work and others' work as well. Open dialogues are held between students when issues arise (such as understanding what meeting the competency means).

Peer Learning in an Online Course: As our students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, students are able to help teach each other how they interpret the different competencies. This is especially helpful in the peer review process when students get critiques from those who may have a completely different understanding of the challenge at hand. Based on individual experiences, peer learning starts to take off when they realize who is strong in certain aspects. For example, if a student is strong in APA, you may see those who are weak asking the strong APA individuals for a review of their items. For those who already have ID positions, students reach out on what items they should include in their portfolio to make them stand out. While the course is set up with deadlines for the evaluation process, the peer learning starts to take place in an ad hoc way. Students reaching out to each other via email, Skype meetings, phone calls or texts. These learning experiences may have begun in an online course - but they grow into more meaningful experiences when outside of the LMS system.