Identifying Differences in Student Interactions with Near-Peer and Non Near-Peer Instructors in the General Chemistry Laboratory
There is consensus in the literature that peer learning is beneficial for student content learning as well as affective response to courses. Peer learning methods are used frequently in large science and math courses and often show positive outcomes from all participants. Peer learning programs in undergraduate science education rarely distinguish between the types of instructors leading the peer learning sessions, but medical education literature argues that a distinction should be made. This literature reports that the benefits produced as a result of peer learning are produced to an even greater degree when students learn from near-peer instructors. While there is consensus that student content learning and affective gains increase when taught by peers, especially near-peers, there is little real-time data to support these gains to explain how the perceived benefits are produced. Additionally, there is a lack of real-time data to indicate whether there are in fact real time differences between peer instruction and near-peer instruction. Retrospective methods, such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups serve as the primary data collection methods used in existing literature to evaluate the benefits of peer and near-peer learning. The Undergraduate Teacher-Scholar Program was created to investigate this gap in the literature. The program places a near-peer instructor and a non-near peer instructor together in laboratory course sections to teach students simultaneously. This environment allows real-time audio comparison of student interactions with near-peer and non near-peer instructors.
Audio data suggests that the presence of a near-peer instructor in the laboratory section results in increased student-instructor interaction times with both types of instructors. When there is no near-peer instructor present in the laboratory section, graduate student instructors interact with students for fewer minutes per hour of instruction. There is additional evidence to suggest that the presence of a near-peer instructor allows students to ask questions about life outside of the laboratory, which may contribute to increased feelings of comfort in the learning environment. Near-peer instructors also mirror student language and express empathy in conversation at a greater rate than their non near-peer instructor counterparts. Although this happens at a low frequency, it may contribute to positive affective benefits reported by students in surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Findings from this study suggest that the presence of a near-peer instructor in the laboratory is beneficial to all program stakeholders, and that real-time interaction differences may contribute to the perceived content learning and affective benefits expressed by students.