Thursday, May 28, 2020
US flag

Peers or teachers: Who inspires kids more?

“Why do I have to learn this?” It’s a common question among youth, but new research out of Michigan State University suggests students perform much better academically when the answer is provided by their peers rather than their teachers.

University students who were given a rationale for why learning is important from people similar to them—in this case actors posing as young professionals—wrote more effective essays and got a significantly better final grade than students who were given the same rationale from the course instructor.

“These findings suggest that what instructors were good at was getting across cold facts, while the peers seemed to be tapping into an identification process,” said study co-author Cary Roseth, associate professor of educational psychology. “In other words, as a student, I can identify with my peers and imagine myself using the course material in the same way they do. This gives the material meaning and a sense of purpose that goes beyond memorization. When I hear a peer’s story, it connects to the story I am telling myself about who I want to be in the future.”

The research, published in the International Journal of Educational Research, was conducted in an online college course. Online course enrollment has grown dramatically during the past decade, and more than a third of all U.S. higher-education students—7 million-plus—have now enrolled in at least one online course.

The study is the first to investigate the effects of peer and instructor rationales on student outcomes over an entire semester, let alone in an online setting.

For the experiment, students in an MSU introductory-level educational psychology course, which is required of all teacher education students, were randomly assigned to receive either the peer rationale, the instructor rationale or no rationale for why the course was important and beneficial to their potential careers as teachers. The peer and instructor rationales were scripted and identical.

When it came to final grades, students who received the peer rationale scored an average of 92 percent—significantly higher than the 86 percent scored by students who received the rationale from the instructor. Interestingly, students who received no rationale averaged 90 percent for a final grade, which is still higher than those who received the instructor rationale.

“We found that receiving the instructor rationale led to lower final grades than both the peer rationale and no rationale conditions,” Roseth said. “This gives support to the idea that, motivationally, the fact that instructors control grades, tell the students what do to, and so on, may be working against their efforts to increase their students’ appreciation of why the class is important.”

Thus, this study suggests that it may be beneficial for instructors to provide students with peer rationales.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

Voxitatis congratulates the COVID Class of 2020

2020 is unique and, for high school graduates, different from anything they've seen. Proms, spring sports, & many graduation ceremonies are cancelled. Time for something new.

Vertical addition (m3.nbt.2) math practice

3rd grade, numbers and operations in base 10, 2, 3-digit vertical addition practice problem

Rubber ducks (m3.oa.1) math practice

3rd grade, operational and algebraic thinking, 1, rubber ducky modeling practice problem

Distance learning begins as Covid-19 thrives

What we learn during & from coronavirus, a challenging & imminent crisis, will provide insights into so many aspects of our lives.

Calif. h.s. choir sings with social distancing

Performances with the assistance of technology can spread inspiration across the globe even as the coronavirus spreads illness and disease.

Families plan to stay healthy during closures

Although schools are doing what they can to keep students learning and healthy during the coronavirus outbreak, that duty now shifts to parents.

Illinois temporarily closes all schools

IL schools will be closed on Tuesday, March 17, through at least March 30. Schools in 18 states are now closed due to coronavirus.

Coronavirus closures & cancellations

Many schools are closed and sports tournaments cancelled across America during what the president called a national emergency: coronavirus.

Coronavirus closes schools in Seattle

The coronavirus pandemic has caused colleges to cancel classes, and now Seattle Public Schools became the nation's first large district to cancel classes due to the virus.

Most detailed images ever of the sun

A new telescope at the National Solar Observatory snapped the most detailed pictures of the sun's surface we have ever seen.

Feds boost Bay funding

Restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed received a boost in federal funding in the budget Congress passed last month.