A ’Blueprint’ for Peer-Based and Collaborative Learning in a Teaching Laboratory

In this post, Dr. Sweta Ladwa provides an update on her 2016 Teaching Innovation Award and explains how peer based learning can be used within a laboratory based teaching environment.

What is the problem, which you are trying address?

In a laboratory-teaching environment, students are very much focused on getting to the end product of an experiment (whether it is a compound and a form of analysis), sometimes without taking in or thinking about the steps to get to the end of the experiment. Students are normally provided with a laboratory manual, which gives detailed instructions for completing their experimental work. These instructions will include a number of ‘core’ techniques pivotal to a student’s time at university. Although the laboratory is sometimes considered to play a supporting role to the lecture in higher education, it is vital with respect to STEM subjects.

Through personal observation, when students are encouraged to discuss their knowledge to their peers in the laboratory, there is much more engagement with the material. Information is retained as knowledge is generally disseminated in their own language without necessarily using a large amount of technical jargon. This will allow students to explore the higher levels of learning objectives.

What are the objectives of the project?

  1. To develop a blueprint to incorporate peer-based learning of core laboratory techniques within modules in Chemistry.
  2. Work with students to develop and evaluate the findings from the project.
  3. Student-led focus groups to test and discuss the blueprint to gain wider student perspective.

How will the objectives of the project be met?

Students will be provided with a laboratory technique, which, in small groups of 2-3 students, they will evaluate research and disseminate the information back to their peers through instructional videos.

Project so far

The initial part of the project was to identify key techniques, which are considered to be fundamental to a students training within chemistry. Once identified, students were selected to carry out pilot studies in order to test the concepts outlined in the TIA. These students were selected from a group of Chemistry Student Helpers, some of whom have also been involved in the Peer Assisted Learning Scheme. Students were then split into small groups and techniques were assigned to them. They got together to plan how to disseminate the information in the form of a video and then started to put together the videos.

What did the students who were involved say about this project?

“It made me think about the techniques more’.

“I still remember what I have learnt weeks later”.

“It was a different way of learning which was enjoyable”.

Next Steps

The next steps for the project are to use student focus groups to gain feedback for the videos and this type of learning from a wider group of students. This will be carried out after the Easter break. A submission has been made and accepted to present at the RAISE conference, which is going to be held in Manchester in September 2017 during which the work will be presented. The findings will also be presented at the University’s Learning and Teaching Conference in May

Video Podcasts to Support Student Placement Searching

Six final year students from the School of Business and Economics (SBE) have shared their experiences of placements to help those now hunting for a place for next year.

The students worked for a range of different companies, from KPMG to Nottingham Panthers. Their experiences had been very different with one exception – all said there was irreplaceable value in their placement. They saw benefit to them as individuals and to their studies.


Filming took place in the English and Drama lecture theatre.


The students all volunteered as part of a Teaching Innovation Award project led by Dr. Amanda Berry from the SBE.  They had a list of interview questions in advance so that they could prepare their answers; each list tailored to each student. This allowed them to really think through what they wanted to say to share the best insight into their journeys.

Sound advice for placement-seeking students is rich – from how organized you need to be to secure a placement; interview preparations; and also the amount of time demanded for making applications and researching companies.

The raw video files are now being edited and answers collated for each specific question.  A compilation of voices of experience will create a final film which will be available for use by the Careers Education Centre (CEC) and school placement teams.

The final films will be made available on Learn and on the CEC webpages.


Practices in Peer Support

Croft & TabeartAn HEA STEM workshop entitled Practices in Peer Support – exploring alternative approaches to enhance the student experience was held just under a month ago on January 22nd in the Design Studio of the Centre for Design and Engineering Education. Various resources associated with this workshop (including each of the PowerPoint presentations given on the day) have now become available online.

As we discovered on the day, peer support encompasses a variety of approaches to the idea of students supporting other students; indeed, it includes but is not limited to buddying, mentoring, and coaching. The fact is that, however it might precisely be defined, peer support continues to play an increasing role within the Higher Education conversation regarding the role of ‘students as partners’.

This phenomenon of peer support – which is particularly strongly advocated at locations such as the University of Manchester, Bournemouth University, the University of Bath, etc. – is only set to develop as student engagement expands well beyond representation to applied action, and as the academic community grows to recognise the inherent benefits in students driving their own education forward in terms such as student personal and professional development.

Through its Teaching Centre, Loughborough University currently seeks to maintain a Peer Support Directory (external facing website) and a Peer Support Community of Practice (internal VLE resource), as well as encouraging peer support in a number of locations across campus. This HEA workshop marks the continuation of a conversation regarding increasingly formalised and structured peer support within and across STEM subjects, as well as across this institution. The question now must be how to take this forward to increasingly concrete action, as well as the sharing of effective practice within and across these individual STEM subjects, and beyond that into the HE sector as a whole.

Peer Assisted Learning in Maths

International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and TechnologyThere can be some real pleasure in declaring a professional interest, and this is one of those occasions. Appearing less than a month ago in the International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, three colleagues – namely Francis Duah, Tony Croft and Matthew Inglis – from the Mathematics Education Centre here at Loughborough University have just published an article entited “Can peer assisted learning be effective in undergraduate mathematics?”

The abstract reads: “We report the implementation and evaluation of a ‘peer assisted learning’ (PAL) scheme designed to reduce the so-called ‘cooling off’ phenomenon in undergraduate mathematics. ‘Cooling off’ occurs when mathematics undergraduates lose motivation and interest in their studies, despite having previously actively chosen to study it at higher levels. We found that, despite concerns about the novel didactic contract inherent in PAL schemes, a majority of students chose to engage with the scheme, and that the student leaders of the PAL sessions were generally capable of implementing a student-centred pedagogy. Furthermore, we found that students who attended the PAL sessions had higher achievement in their final examinations, even after controlling for their lecture attendance and prior attainment. We conclude by arguing that PAL may provide a useful mechanism for reducing the prevalence of the ‘cooling off’ phenomenon in some – but not all – groups of mathematics students.”

In advocating peer support as a mechanism to allow students to support other students within and beyond the curriculum, to become active participants and partners in the academic community, and to drive the learning agenda forward, the Teaching Centre is very proud to have been associated with, and to have contributed to, the training and implementation of this PAL scheme. We encourage colleagues and students alike to explore associated resources such as the Learn module entitled SYMBoL – Second Year Mathematics: BeyOnd Lectures, and to get involved in related events such as the HEA STEM: Practices in peer support – exploring alternative approaches to enhance the student experience workshop to be held in the Centre for Design and Engineering Education on 22nd January 2014. Peer support systems such as PAL are an incredibly powerful way to support our students in their transition to university life, to encourage them to own their studies, and to skill them for life beyond their undergraduate experience; go to the Peer Support Directory for more information on past and present related activities at this institution.

This is the fifth in our series of blog posts regarding publications by Loughborough University staff on pedagogical issues. Further information regarding this particular publication is available online; the full citation follows: Francis Duah, Tony Croft & Matthew Inglis, “Can peer assisted learning be effective in undergraduate mathematics”, in International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, online publication 13 November 2013. doi: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0020739X.2013.855329

HEA STEM: Practices in peer support – exploring alternative approaches to enhance the student experience


With the support of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), the Teaching Centre is hosting an HEA Workshop and Seminar Series 2013-14 event on Wednesday, 22 January 2014. It will run that day from 10am to 4pm and it is being held here at Loughborough University in the Design Studio, Centre for Engineering and Design Education, Keith Green Building.

Entitled “Practices in peer support – exploring alternative approaches to enhance the student experience”, and focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, this HEA STEM discipline workshop will also have wider relevance and application to staff and students interested in peer support more generally.

Further information is available online – click on HEA STEM: Practices in peer support – exploring alternative approaches to enhance the student experience; indeed, colleagues are encouraged to use that webpage to book their attendance at this event.