There were many challenges throughout that course. Electricity was intermittent. English, the language of communication, had varying levels of understanding among participants. But the biggest challenge was the cultural shift to a dialogue approach to learning, a big shift for many on other courses too, but even more so here. Yet over the week I slowly saw things start to change. It was 5 days of training for 12 participants, most were Ugandans. Many were community leaders coming from their towns or villages, learning how to best present content they cared about so that others would come to care as well. They were discovering adult learning principles and how to apply them, each to their own contexts.
I was most aware of the cultural challenge during the teaching practices. This was when everyone took a topic of choice and taught it to the rest of us using an adult learning approach, assisted by one other person from the group. Right after that came feedback; firstly to each other and then from their peers in the class. The cultural challenge involved moving from monologue to dialogue teaching but also in being comfortable with the process of peer review. Should the teacher not be seen as the expert, there to impart their knowledge? Would questioning them like this not be challenging their authority? What if the teacher was also their work manager?
I was impressed by progress they made in doing peer review. After the first pair taught, feedback from participants was scant, but slowly, with lavish encouragement, it increased as later pairs taught. I was aware that as well as any overt learning going on, much hidden learning was happening too, something backed up by the research into peer review. Here are ways I saw this happening:
- Feedback given to one pair was used later by other pairs when making their own presentation. One example was feedback about putting their instructions for learners in written form (rather than just verbal) – later pairs started to do just that without being told! Participants not only gave feedback to others, but were comparing that feedback with their own presentation and making changes appropriately. They were developing skills to generate feedback about the quality of their own work.
- There was a mix of weak and strong presentations. Seeing a range of samples helped them develop criteria for judging whether or not a presentation was good. To avoid becoming harmfully critical about weaker ones, we gave some ground rules on giving and receiving feedback, which helped. In early presentations, staff modelled these. These skills, for learning what to be critical about and how to do it, are of use long after the course ends.
- The quality of peer review received varied a lot. This meant that participants had to make a choice on how useful it actually was. They had to decide which feedback to keep and which to discard, so they were learning how to evaluate feedback. Again, this is a good skill to have when we receive many opinions about whatever work we do.
Each of these skills gained are of use well beyond one training course. Research shows that teachers develop these through assessing the work of their students. Students need to be given appraisal experiences similar to their teachers and this is done through providing peer review opportunities for them. I have become more conscious since then to provide these opportunities where appropriate when designing training.
You may say that peer review sounds great but what does it all mean for digital training?
There is absolutely no reason why peer review cannot happen within classroom training. The strength of digital is in helping it to happen. Digital enables work that is to be peer reviewed to be shared more easily among participants. Maybe also more ecologically. Work submitted for review need not be near the final product; it can be a rough plan or at draft stage, which makes feedback immediately useful and so become formative in learning. Using media such as discussion forums or a class wiki means review comments can come over a longer period, which means comments can be more reflective.
Digital also enables a wider range of people to review, not just demographically but also internationally, leading to a richer range of insights given. One highlight for me of my Digital Education Masters studies was learning first-hand ways in which Swedish education worked differently to what I was familiar with in the UK.
By the end of the week in Uganda, we were pleased to see that participants could analyse and be constructively critical of each other’s training and recognise good training. These were skills they would be able to use long thereafter.
How can you use peer review within training that you provide – either classroom or digital?