In this action research study of my ICT classroom of adult learners, my aim is to investigate the effectiveness of peer tutoring and its influence on learners achievement and confidence. The Observation, Interview and questionnaires revealed that the learners valued the form of support offered by peers. A small percentage of learners, however, reported peer support less helpful and preferred more tutor support. This appears to indicate that learners should benefit from peer tutoring, developing improved cooperation skills with peers and an increased motivation to engage in more productive and meaningful learning.
Table of Contents
Being a teacher in the lifelong learning sector involves a wide range of roles in and out of a formal classroom setting. A teacher needs to be a leader, a promoter, a mentor, a facilitator and an inspiration to their learners. Rogers (1996, page 163) argues "The teacher is a promoter of learning changes, the encourager of the learners" Adult learners brings with them a wealth of experience, expectation and concerns., their aim of learning could be personal or professional. In order to gain learner's confidence and trust the teacher has to act in a friendly but professional manner.
Learners coming to learn basic ICT skills in my class are mainly elderly and their main aim of learning is to gain skills rather than qualification. As an ICT facilitator for elderly learner, it is my role and responsibility to understand my learners' goal and motivation towards learning. ICT plays very important role in developing learning opportunities for older people both as a topic and as a means of learning in today's digital age. However, elderly learners are less confident about computer work, this could be because due to age and cultural influences. Sometimes, lack of confidence evident itself as a computer anxiety or technophobia in older learners. Fisher (1991) suggests that 'hands-on' group work in an informal environment is a key factor in coping with this problem.
In the teaching profession, every teacher requires to constantly reflect on their practice and to experiment a variety of skills that may be used to improve classroom practice. There has been a considerable move in teacher learning to improve classroom practice by focusing more on reflective and collaborative approach. Action research is one of the approaches for teacher who wish to improve the quality of teaching and learning for their learners.
"Action research is simply a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out." Carr and Kemmis, (1986, p. 162)
In my view, action research is a systematic method of solving problems to bring improvement in ones personal practice. It is concerned with the real problem faced by the facilitator / teacher and looking for the possible solution, as well as guess what may happen if changes are implemented. Basically It involves self-reflection, and strong commitment to improve own practices. Rogers (1996, page 161) argues "The teacher is at one and the same time an adult learner, engaging in learning episodes with their own preferred learning style." Teacher is a learner as well, while they are teaching, they are learning from every session how to improve their practice. Action research is one of the approaches to improve their practice.
In order to conduct an action research project, the teacher enters into a cycle of investigation.
Figure 1 : Adapted from Kolb (1984) learning cycle and Kurt Lewin (1947)
Action research should be conducted in flexible and informal contexts. The goal of action research is both diagnostics as well as remedial. The objective of action research, by practitioner for example, will be to identify problems and to find a solution to improve classroom practice.
During my practice as a student tutor teaching ICT to adult learners, I noticed that majority of my learners were lacking confidence in their own ability to use computers and that was because of the anxiety and fear of using computers. Their dependency on tutor was very high. Dealing with my learners' fear and anxiety has always been my biggest challenge as an ICT teacher. They were reluctant to use their notes, handouts, examples or previously corrected work to guide them. If the learner did not know how to perform worksheet tasks right away, the first reaction was to ask me or sometimes they were reluctant to ask me. It occurred to me that this could be due to their lack of confidence in using ICT because majority of them were all 50+ and very anxious using computers, resulting in constantly searching for reassurance from me. It is extremely difficult for one teacher to meet the needs of each student at one time; there is simply not enough time in a class to spend individual time with each student every single session.
I wanted my learner to continue their learning journey and acquire more knowledge which can be a valuable asset for their life. During my first year, I noticed many learners are not continuing their learning journey. After completing a course they are not enrolling for further courses. The figure below shows the trends towards learning. Less than 50% student decided to progress learning. I wanted to encourage more learners to engage in further learning process because learning is a lifelong process.
I wanted to facilitate my learners with all the possible help and support in order to achieve their learning goals, but at the same time I wanted them to be independent and confident in their learning. In addition, I noticed that due to this problem following situation has occurred.
It was taking up lots of my time explaining and helping individual learners. This left little time for me to observe the progress of other learners who did not feel comfortable asking for help.
The learners who were confident and can complete their work in a given time, where feeling the pace of the course is very slow and they are getting very little from the session.
After I determined my topic of peer support / tutoring , I began to search for common themes among research already done. There have been very few published papers to date that is directly applicable to Peer tutoring, but surprisingly I could not find anything on Peer tutoring to improve student confidence and achievement in ICT.
Definition of peer tutoring for this research purpose is "more able learners helping less able learner to learn in the co-operative working environment. " In other words teaching is being done with by learners at the same level, this is also termed as co-peer teaching.
The basis for using peer tutoring approach can be linked with the old saying "those who teach learn twice". As (Dueck 1993; Whitman 1988) argues quoted by (Susan, 1994) "Peer tutoring can enhance learning by enabling learners to take responsibility for reviewing, organizing, and consolidating existing knowledge and material; understanding its basic structure; filling in the gaps; finding additional meanings; and reformulating knowledge into new conceptual frameworks" Thus, by adapting peer tutoring, learning becomes more effective, learners are more likely to understand and absorb knowledge acquired.
This holds true value because in my class during the implementation of peer support / tutoring I observed that the both the tutor and tutees are getting advantage of peer tutoring. Learners are taking more responsibilities of their own learning.
As per (Topping, 1996) "Peer tutoring, an age-old practice since the ancient Greeks, can be defined as students with more knowledge and skills helping other students with less of those capacities to learn in cooperative pairs or small groups" and is what this action research project is focused on.
(Topping, 1996 ) argues that peer tutoring creates an opportunity for learners to build strong ideas for communication while they are transferring their knowledge and understanding of classroom learning. It also possesses many theoretical advantages which are summarised as follows.
Peer tutoring creates an opportunity for learners (tutees) to develop their zone of proximal by experienced tutors guidelines through social and cognitive interaction.
"Learning by teaching" concept has been proven to develop higher order thinking skills and meta-cognitive skills. This type of development is very important for adult learners who is returning to formal education system after many years of break.
Peer tutoring gives greater ownership to the learners in their learning process, thus helping to increase confidence and empathy with others, therefore help them to reduce anxiety. For adult learners it is very essential to reduce anxiety in order to achieve desired learning goals.
Peer tutoring allows learning sessions to be more interactive, participative promoting active learning which in turn provides immediate feedback on learning
Finally, it reduces teacher-student ratio and increases time on task, resulting in more opportunities to make errors and be corrected. In other words, it increases opportunity to respond and promote classroom engagement (Greenwood, Delquadri, & Hall, 1989).
I strongly agree with Topping and I have observed this during the implementation of the peer tutoring approach in my classroom.
Why use peer tutoring?
Topping (2005, p. 631) gives the definition of peer tutoring as "the acquisition of knowledge and skill through active helping and supporting among status equals or matched companions. It involves people from similar social groupings who are not professional teachers helping each other learn and learning themselves by so doing."
From my learning experience, I learned that if I don't understand anything it was my natural instinct to automatically seek help from my peers first then teacher, because peer are sitting next to you and are more approachable. At the same time you are not confident to ask your teacher in front of everybody.
The majority of my learners is elderly coming from India. Because of cultural difference, their learning style is based on the conventional hierarchy system, where the teacher is the boss and learners should purely follow what the teacher says. The peer tutoring approach was completely different experience for them to what they were used to in their student life. Because of their shy nature, they were hesitant to ask openly in the classroom, if they don't understand. However I have observed them seeking help from their peers and receiving help from peers as well, I can hear snippets of their conversations to realise how much informal peer teaching is going on: "How do you do that?" - "Did you get the answer..." - "Do you get this?", "What shall I do?" , "Let me finish, then I will explain you", "Shall I help you?" etc. These suggests that peer tutoring is already been done informally in the classroom. I just wanted to formalised the process of peer tutoring. The reasons for this are:-
I wanted my learner to experience the power of peer learning to enhance their confidence in my classroom. I wanted to give all the learners an opportunity to teach a peer and be taught by a peer both inside and outside the classroom
I wanted my learner to be confident and independent.
I see this as a very effective way of teaching, especially in a situation where learners are always seeking reassurance from their teacher for each and every aspect of their learning activity.
I wanted my learners to interact and socialised with each other and develop a skill of self assessment and peer assessment.
In addition, I wanted my learners to enjoy the success of their learning in order to continue their learning journey.
Advantages of peer tutoring
The main reasons why peer tutoring is an advantageous teaching strategy are given below.
Sometimes for learners it is easy to understand from their peers because they are cognitively closer to each other. Tutor learners can explain using their own experience and examples to present their own model of understanding a subject.
It helps both tutors and tutees build confidence in their ICT abilities. It is less daunting for the tutees as it allows them to be "wrong" in front of somebody who is not an academic and therefore helps break down barriers to learning.
Peer tutoring not only ensures a good level of effective and efficient communication and cooperation in favor of the tutees but also acts for the benefit of student-tutors as well. The tutors' gains are the following:
By spending time in explaining the subject matters they have to teach to other learners, they result in acquiring deeper and clearer knowledge on the specific subjects they deal with. It is said that we learn 95% of what we teach;
Through tutoring, learner tutors develop their ability and skills to teach and guide other learners;
Learner tutors enjoy a rise in their self-esteem, feeling that they do something useful and seeing their tutees to improve. They also enjoy respect from tutees.
Structured peer tutoring improves communication and cooperation among learners, enhances the team spirit and helps socialisation. In order to benefit from the education system, social interaction and the construction of social identities are very important aspects of adult education.
In conclusion, peer tutoring fosters interaction among students which in turn generates active learning environments (Menzel & Carrell, 1999; Powers & Rossman, 1985), nurtures sense of classroom community, and thereby promotes learning (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004; Rovai, 2002). " (Buraphadeja & Kumnuanta, 2011).
As a facilitator I wanted my all the learners to progress well. I was trying to find the solution to overcome this problem. Throughout the first year of my teaching, I also recognised that when the learners were doing their project in a group or with a partner they were more engaged and they were learning from each other. I was actually able to walk around the room and watch learners completing a portion of their assigned project. When learners were working with a partner, they had someone else to ask for help rather than asking me and they also seemed more confident in the work that they were doing and completed it with ease.
Initially I thought, I will pair them when they are doing their worksheet, so they can learn from each other. I believed that with mixed ability pairing they will acquire better learning. This approach troubled me because most of my learners wanted to have a command on keyboard and mouse. It was a big kiosk because one of the learner was trying to do something with mouse and at the same time other learner was trying to type something using the keyboard. Here co-ordination was the problem. (Betts et el, 2007) argues "When technology is shared, one person sometimes dominated its use, possibly undermining the usefulness of collaborative work for developing ICT skills."
Therefore, I decided to take a different approach. First I would introduce a new topic. I will explain and demonstrate a new topic followed by the hands on practice worksheet which learners has to complete. More able learners tend to finish their worksheet quickly. They were then encouraged to help other learners who are having difficulties. This approach worked really well. Able learners got an opportunity to reinforce their learning by teaching and less able learners got 1:1 tutoring which helped them to learn the topic. The learners who were reluctant to ask for help also benefit from this approach because their peers were more than happy to help them asking them shall I help you? As a result their confidence was increased and they became more independent. In addition, It helped them to reduce their anxiety.
This study examines the key question: "Does peer tutoring helps adult learners to become more independent and confident, in order to reduce their anxiety and actively engage in their learning?"
Learners need to be actively involved in their learning. If the learners are interested and enthusiastic then they are more willing learners and they actively participate. Once they are actively involved in their learning, they develop an interest and enthusiasm for the subject which in turn helps them in acquiring new knowledge. Peer support can contribute to the creation of a collaborative culture and a learning community that values and believes in continuous improvement
I decided to focus on peer support / tutoring with my both groups of learners. In both groups, there were a couple of learners who had low self-esteem . I explained both group the advantage of collaborative working. I encourage them to help and support their peers whenever they seek for a help. My major concern was being Adult learners, what if they are not comfortable to ask a help from their peers? Therefore first of all I asked them to voluntarily help to their peers. I was amazed with the response I got from my learners, because majority of them were happy to help their peers and ask for the help from their peers as well.
In order to increase collaboration amongst learners, activities for spreadsheet software were more diverse and relied more heavily on collaboration. Given the greater degree of complexity and the wide range of functions in spreadsheet software, many exercises were designed differently while students worked on a similar objective. For example, when students were asked to calculate total, one set of the exercises instructed them to use formulas (e.g., =D1+E1+F1) while the other set instructed them to use the sum() function to achieve the same outputs. These exercises increasingly required higher degrees of collaboration and those who finished earlier could not simply walk their friends through what they did. Rather, they had to start over and work from the beginning with their peers.
Regarding teaching and learning strategies, each session began with an opening discussion, where the instructor gave a quick summary on the class objectives and exercises, and then prompted students to log in and work on their own workstation, at their own pace. With self-paced learning, instructors could identify quickly students who possessed greater skills in the subject matter (i.e., those who finished their exercises earlier) and recruited them to guide their less-skilled friends (i.e. peer tutoring). Thus, those who needed help would not have to wait for assistance from the teacher. It should be noted that once instructors finished with the class introduction, they then acted as coaches by observing how students worked at their own pace and gave suggestions upon request. In other words, the instructor also assumed the role of a tutor.
After 2-3 weeks I noticed that even though able learners are busy doing their work, they were more than happy to help their peers who were asking for the help which was very positive attitude.
Using the peer tutoring approach in adult basic ICT education has much to recommend it. Like any other method, it must be used appropriately and learners must be prepared for it. All the learners should get the chance to participate and the opportunity to help, which makes them all feel equally valuable and worthwhile.
Report and analysis of the research findings
This study was designed to determine the effectiveness of peer tutoring in adult basic ICT education, to increase their confidence and reduce anxiety. Questionnaires were used to see if the learners would respond positively to the process of peer tutoring.
The participants were 12 adult learners in basic ICT course learning Microsoft Excel with an age range of 41to 80 years. Of the 12 learners, 9 were female and 3 were male. They all had an English as their second language. Most of them were retired and their main motivation to attend the course came from their near ones (children / grandchildren / family members) . Many participants already owned a computer and an internet connection.
The research triangulated methods to examine the extent to which learners were benefiting from peer support. The outcomes are based upon following sources
Interview with the learners
Discussion with the cohort
Group discussion session with the learners
A questionnaire was conducted at 5th week. The results are included in appendix A
There was a very positive response from the learners. However results show that one of the learner was not in favor of the idea of peer support. It could be cultural differences or the learner was not willing to either offer help or receive help from his/her peers. Peer support appears to have improved self-confidence in general.
Observation and Interview with the learners:
Throughout my implementation of peer support I have observed very positive response from the learners. Most of the time they were all eager to help each other. Their confidence level was improved, which has helped them to reduce anxiety.
Following are the comments from my learners
"I will never forget how to use formulas in excel, because I have explained a couple of times to other learners"
"I am learning new things from my peer"
"Now we are doing our homework together at my house, working with each other help us a lot"
"If somebody shows it to me step by step then only I can understand"
"I have joined English class, because it helps me to improve my ICT skills"
"Learning at this age has improved my confidence and I am able to socialise with my friends and family living abroad"
"Helping peers give me more confidence and I can also learn from the mistakes they make."
"I like to receive help from peers, because they might have a different way to explain which can help me understand"
"I can remember more, if I explain to others"
Discussion with the cohort
One of my peers, who teaches ESOL, adds, 'Learners are often better at explaining things to their peers - they get the right level; and often the tutees are more willing to admit what they don't know with their peers. They feel more comfortable with not understanding'
My other peer who came to observe me commented "It will be great if you make use of your learners as resources to help their peers"
The purpose of this research was to examine the research question, "Does peer tutoring helps adult learners to become more independent and confident, in order to reduce their anxiety and actively engage in their learning?" The feedback from the learners was overwhelming. Learners involved in peer tutoring demonstrated improved cooperation skills with peers and an increased motivation to actively engage in learning, therefore enjoying the success of achieving learning goals. All the learners got an opportunity to interact with each other.
When the learners were asked a question in the last week of the course (in December), whether they will enroll for further course in January? The majority of them wanted to continue their learning journey. I will definitely practice peer tutoring with my future groups.
This study did contain limitations due to the low number of students involved in the research and the short time span in which the research was conducted. In terms of peer tutoring, it was very much appreciated and welcomed by the learners, there was no direct evidence of improvement in their self confidence and achievement, however their attitude towards learning was very positive.
In respects to future research regarding peer tutoring, it is recommended to examine the effectiveness of peer tutoring on a larger class-wide scale, involving an increased number of learners. Additionally, it is recommended to observe the effectiveness of peer tutoring, over the duration of a year in order to examine its long-term effects.
Group Discussion - peer tutoring: adult learners' perspective
In a group discussion session, learner's experience in peer tutoring listed the following ideas about what is necessary for success:
Everybody should be willing to work with each other
There should be no favourisam, everybody should be treated equally
It should be monitored by tutor
Trust between learners and teacher is very important
Everybody should respect each other while helping peers.