03 Oct 2016
Faculty Showcase: Learn and Help Learn: Cooperative Peer Learning Opportunities in the Classroom
Nancy Sasaki, Associate Dean and Associate Teaching Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
Teaching in the sciences to over a hundred students at a time, Nancy Sasaki grew increasingly frustrated with having to police her students. They would try to cheat, and she would try and stop them. In this endless student-teacher cycle, few students were learning. In a radical move that, she argues, promoted learning, Nancy decided to discontinue this mad, pedagogical roundabout. She decided to try a new approach and let her students cheat!
After handing out her next quiz, Nancy had each student stand up and find two people with which to work on the quiz. A student could go to a friend, his or her neighbor, or seek out the smartest person in the class. But, here’s the catch, before a student could turn in his or her quiz, the student had to defend the answers that he or she chose to submit for grading. The correct answer was worth one point, while a correct justification was worth two.
Grades went down! Why? Because students were being convinced of the wrong answers by the students that they were asking. Rather than discontinue the cheat quizzes, however, Nancy told the students that it was their responsibility to argue for better answers from their fellow students. Overtime, grades, dialogue, and engagement all improved. The students bought into the process and, even those that got the answers wrong, wanted to discuss both the correct answers and their justifications. The class was then able to discuss a string of interesting questions that promoted learning. Where did we go wrong? What did we forget? What didn’t we learn about this? What did we need to know in order to get the answer’s justification correct? “I was able,” Nancy said, “to turn the responsibility for learning back onto the student.”
While cheat quizzes might seem counter intuitive, Nancy learned that they both increased student preparation and promoted critical learning.