Yes Peer Discussion Works!

In a 2009 article published in Science (2009:323) Smith et al., found that when undergraduate students at the University of Colorado-Boulder were posed with a multiple-choice question during lecture, and then were given an opportunity to actively engaged in small-group peer discussion regarding their individual responses, they increased their conceptual understanding of the course material, and were more likely to answer a similar multiple-choice question correctly. Furthermore, the improvements in learning occurred even if none of the learners in the discussion group actually knew the correct answer to the initial question! So, why does peer discussion work? The authors speculate that, “…justifying an explanation to a fellow student and skeptically examining the explanation of a peer provide valuable opportunities for a student to develop the communicative and metacognitive skills that are crucial components of disciplinary expertise” (pg. 124). This study provides further support for the use of peer discussion as a simple and effective teaching strategy to encourage active learning in the university classroom.


Smith, M.K. et al. 2009. Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science 323: 122-124.

Great TED talk

In a truly inspirational presentation, grounded in an extraoridinarly philosophy that extends much beyond the borders of Ghana, Patrick Awuah speaks of addressing challenge through leadership and a liberal education. He reminds us of one of the most important purposes of a university – to serve humanity and,

“…to train leaders of exceptional integrity who have the ability to confont complex problems, to ask the right questions, and to come up with workable solutions.”

Does engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning really improve teaching and student learning?

The scholarship of teaching and learning combines the experience of teaching, the scholarship of research, and the dissemination of this knowledge such that the broader academic community can benefit from this scholarly product.  SoTL has been touted as one of the primary methods to increase the quality and value of teaching in higher education.  But, does engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning really translate into better teaching practices and improved student learning?  Brew and Ginns (2008: 33, 535-545) assessed this very question in a recent article published in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. They examined how SoTL initiatives at the University of Sydney impacted teaching and student learning.  The authors measured the association between faculty engagement in SoTL (measured using a Scholarship Index) and the change in undergraduate responses to the Faculties’ Student Course Experience Questionnaire.  The results suggest that engagement in SoTL did in fact improve teaching and student learning, specifically for 5 scales on the questionnaire: Good Teaching, Clear Goals and Standards, Appropriate Assessment, Generic Skills and Overall Satisfaction with Degree Quality.  Although further research is needed to examine which specific SoTL initiatives are most effective in improving teaching and student learning, and how these may vary across disciplines and individuals, these results provide some indication that SoTL may effectively enhance and advance the profession of teaching in higher education.