Correcting peers is key in small-group learning: Telling fellow students they are wrong can help everyone in the group learn

Collaborative group work is increasingly prioritized across higher education, particularly in the life sciences and STEM-related fields. But how students communicate within these smaller groups is key to their success.

New research from the University of Georgia suggests that students who understand what they do and do not know, and who are willing to ask for clarification and correct misinformation in the group, are more successful in small-group problem-solving.

The study, “Oh, that makes sense”: Social Metacognition in Small-Group Problem Solving, was published in the current issue of Life Science Education.

The new research advances the understanding of how students succeed in innovative instruction environments such as SCALE-UP classrooms and active learning courses.

“The move toward more collaborative learning is really big in life science education,” said Julie Dangremond Stanton, associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of cellular biology and corresponding author on the study. “If we’re going to ask students to work in small groups, then we have to provide them with some guidance on how to collaborate effectively while problem solving because they are still learning how to do this. Guidance on collaboration may be particularly important when we ask students to use scientific reasoning with their peers.”

Using discourse analysis to examine transcripts from two groups of three students during breakout sessions in an upper-division biology classroom, researchers identified statements and questions that work best in small-group settings. By analyzing the conversation for metacognition (the awareness and regulation of thought processes), the team — led by postdoctoral researcher Stephanie Halmo — identified seven types of metacognitive statements or questions.

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