Turning Homework on its Head – Deeper Learning by Putting Students in Charge

By Michael Bieber and Jeffrey Hsu

Participatory Learning (PL) engages students as active participants in the full life cycle of homework, projects and examination. PL’s core idea is that students design the questions or projects, execute them, and then assess and grade their peers’ solutions. Each stage can be performed by individuals or by teams. Students should be able to observe (read) everything their peers do so they can learn further from others’ efforts. Designing problems challenges students to critically assess understanding of a subject by their peers. This encourages students to analyze course materials in order to determine the most important aspects for this assessment. Evaluating solutions challenges students to assess how fully a set of materials (the solution) fits their understanding of the field as well as the problem posed.

In this session we describe PL, present experimental results, and discuss compelling issues that arise including motivating students, assessing actual learning, learning to design and use rubrics, anonymity within online systems, trusting peers, contingency planning when students don’t participate, and what it takes for instructors to embrace the approach.

This research is transformative.  It combines various successful teaching approaches into a single framework and process.  It brings a new approach to engaging and motivating students, and deepen their learning across course modes.  We believe it will work in most types of courses including across the STEM fields; and possibly from junior high school through graduate education.   It may solve some issues of engaging students within MOOCs (massive open online courses).  The assessment and team work inherent within PL’s framework could enhance student’s interpersonal (soft) skills, better preparing them for the workplace.  The deeper learning and motivation PL brings, even to topics that students previously have chosen to disengage with, may increase retention and articulation rates.

Participatory Learning is supported by an on-line prototype infrastructure that facilitates the problem lifecycle tasks, underlying processes or “workflow” management, instructor activities and oversight, and ensuring anonymity throughout student interaction.   Future extensions include group support, commenting and flagging, rating, and teaching students how to do their tasks (calibration).  Further information may be found at https://web.njit.edu/~bieber/pubs.html#p

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