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Peer relations in peer learningHanne Riese a , Akylina Samara a & Slvi Lillejord ba Department of Education , University of Bergen , Bergen ,Norwayb Teacher Education , University of Oslo , Oslo , NorwayPublished online: 18 Oct 2011.
To cite this article: Hanne Riese , Akylina Samara & Slvi Lillejord (2012) Peer relations inpeer learning, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 25:5, 601-624, DOI:10.1080/09518398.2011.605078
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2011.605078
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Peer relations in peer learning
Hanne Riesea*, Akylina Samaraa and Slvi Lillejordb
aDepartment of Education, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway; bTeacher Education,University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
(Received 22 April 2010; final version received 8 July 2011)
Over the last decades, much research on peer learning practices has been con-ducted. Quantitative, experimental designs focusing on problems of cause andeffect dominate. Consequently, effects on achievement are well documented, asis the influence of different conditions on the effect rate. In spite of the generalacknowledgment of the importance of peer learning and a large amount ofresearch on collective learning practices, questions regarding the quality of peerinteraction, and how peer relations influence learning, are not well elaborated.This paper complements the discussion on effect focusing on the processes ofinteraction between peers, and relates these to theoretical perspectives on learn-ing as fundamentally social. Inspired by meta-ethnography an integrative analy-sis across seven qualitative studies was accomplished. The approach enabled aninvestigation of peer interactions in different educational settings. The analysiselaborates on how instructional designs and students relational knowledgemediate interaction in peer learning. The paper further discusses the potential ofapproaches synthesising qualitative studies as a tool in qualitative research.
Keywords: peer learning; peer relations; mediational means; meta-ethnography
Peer learning practices are promoted at all levels of the educational system for theo-retical, empirical as well as policy reasons. Arguments fall into three broad catego-ries: First, positive effects on students achievement. Second, in the current masshigher education system peer learning activities can reduce the workload of theteaching staff. Third, the need for including the development of generic skillsrelated to future employment can be promoted by learning practices where studentswork together (Boud, Cohen, and Sampson 2001). Subsequently, research on peer-learning is extensive and has addressed both cognitive growth (ODonnell and King1999) and social aspects of learning (Johnson, Johnson, and Stanne 2000; Resnick,Levine, and Teasley 1991).
We understand peer learning as activities where peers learn from and with eachother in both formal and informal ways (Boud, Cohen, and Sampson 2001, 4).Approaches that can fit under this broad definition of peer learning include peertutoring, peer assessment, small group learning, collaborative, and cooperativelearning (Cooperative learning methods: a meta-analysis, http://www.co-operation.org/pages/cl-methods.html [accessed 10 December 2007]). The plethora of concepts
*Corresponding author. Email: Hanne.Riese@uib.no
International Journal of Qualitative Studies in EducationVol. 25, No. 5, August 2012, 601624
ISSN 0951-8398 print/ISSN 1366-5898 online 2012 Taylor & Francishttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2011.605078http://www.tandfonline.com
reflects the wide range of practical models for implementing peer learning. Mostresearch concentrates on identifying effects and conditions for effect, treating peerlearning as an instructional intervention, rather than as enacted practice (Kosch-mann 1996). Thus a number of meta-studies have documented positive effects onlearning outcome, in addition to social skills, self-esteem and cost-effectiveness.Research further shows that conditions for positive effects include group goals orinterdependence, student responsibility, and reward systems on the group as well asindividual level (Cohen 1994b; Falchikov and Goldfinch 2000; Hattie 2009; John-son, Johnson, and Smith 2007; Johnson et al. 2000; Lou et al. 1996; Prince 2004;Rohrbeck et al. 2003; Slavin 1996; Springer, Stanne, and Donovan 1999; Topping1996).
However, researchers call for more investigation into the complexity of interac-tions in peer learning (Hartup 1999; Kumpulainen and Kaartinen 2000; Lillejordand Dysthe 2008; Springer, Stanne, and Donovan 1999; Szymanski 2003), claimingthe need for knowledge regarding which aspects of interaction are conducive tolearning. This means that the study of peer learning should concentrate on under-standing what learners do when they work collaboratively. In this perspective learn-ing is investigated as changes in practice as well as cognitive development, and theanalytical focus should be on process as well as outcome.
Furthermore the meaning of the term peer in peer learning is seldom dis-cussed. Most often it refers to a student in the same cohort or learning situation(Boud and Lee 2005). Peer relations are addressed using terms like interdepen-dence, scaffolding, and tutoring, indicating that the relations are important but thesocial relationships between peers and their prior knowledge of each other, are notdiscussed as being of importance to the learning activity (Boud and Lee 2005;Johnson, Johnson, and Smith 2007; Topping 2005; Tosey and Gregory 1998).
In peer learning literature social relationships between peers are indirectlyaddressed, discussing problems related to status, ethnicity or gender (Cohen 1994b;Cohen and Lotan 1995; Salomon 1989; Slavin 1996; Springer, Stanne, andDonovan 1999). In contrast, if we turn to literature on social relations in education,peer relations are addressed in terms of friendship and acceptance (Berndt, Miller,and Perry 1988; Hamm and Faircloth 2005; Hanham and McCormick 2009; Kut-nick and Kington 2005; Swenson and Strough 2008; Zajac and Hartup 1997). Thisfield of research has documented that friends are an important motivation forschooling (Berndt and Keefe 1996), that social and academic development arerelated (Anderman and Anderman 1999; Wentzel 1996), and that friendship rela-tions may be significant with regard to the learning outcomes from peer learning(Riese 2010). These two traditions of research, one addressing learning, the othersocial relations in education, are seldom combined (Hanham and McCormick 2009;Swenson and Strough 2008).
Based on the identified gaps this study intends to address peer learning as anenacted practice, questioning how interaction proceeds and how social relationsbetween peers contribute to the interactional process in peer learning. Inspired bythe meta-ethnographic approach developed by Noblit and Hare (1988), we have car-ried out an interpretative synthesis of seven qualitative studies. We assume thatexisting qualitative research already but implicitly includes information on peerinteraction and how relations influence the process of peer learning. By synthesisingresults from several studies the understanding of peer learning practices can be
602 H. Riese et al.
improved on a broader base than a single study may provide. Our results allowfuture research to pose more informed questions on peer relations in peer learning.
Theoretical context of the study