Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Students learn the most from each other

This is something we have known for the last 10 years (or 20) through for instance the research done by Eric Mazur and collaborators. They showed that using peer instruction improved student learning of physics concepts by 20% in a real-world, class setting, compared to a "regular" lecture-based approach with the sage on the stage imparting their wisdom to the young susceptible minds!
That is a fine example of a very deliberate teaching practice. Sometimes the learning is much more ... unexpected. In Winter 2017, I organized a graduate course called "Ecological statistics through time" that was mainly student taught, by design. I will devote some blog posts on some of these experiences, but one of the fun outcomes was something I did not (could not) anticipate.

The students in the course had a wide range of experience with R, from 3+ years of daily coding for a MSc degree to just one undergrad intro stats course. This made teaching R a challenge, because I had to constantly try and accommodate these extremes (with varying levels of success probably). But the advantage was that I had plenty of best practice examples that did not come from me, but from their peers. For instance, I have collected and created some best practice documents for R coding in the Resource page on my website.

But what is not on this page, and what a lot of students had fun with for their final reproducible coding assignment, was something that they learned from Joey. He and Sharon posted some R code for their discussion, and it had this header:

And this style showed up in some modesty in their peers' code: 

But some also went to town with this idea, and went beyond expectations:

And it is hard to pick the best one, but this is one of my favourites:


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