Peers, Are They Worthwhile? by K.P.

In an educational system where academic progress under high scrutiny, it’s fair to say that we know what progresses and slows the growth of a student.  We constantly hear about homework, sleep, different types of grading, etc, but what if we went broader in trying to answer that question.  What about our academic environment?  If we wanted to maximize the success of a student by putting them in the best physical setting, what would it look like. For me, I want to know if a student’s long term success is dependent upon their surrounding peers.  I know from personal experience as well as interviews from friends and high level academics that working together with peers will often short term success.  Jeremy Taylor, a 3.2 GPA student, responded when asked how much success working with peers had,  “I Feel like In the short term I have a lot of success when I work with peers.  I feel like it is possibility that I might not be able to work as efficiently on my own though if I am so used to working with others.”  Skyler Calderoni, a year round athlete and dedicated student was quoted as saying, “Initial collaboration is great, but after a long period of time, things start to break down.” These are the opinions of the very students around us.  The ones who are striving to achieve success in postsecondary education.

Off the top of my head, it’s hard for me to say which way I would prefer myself.  I can think of instances that support both sides.  Working alone, I have found myself to be more equipped for the next similar project.  When reading books for my L.A. classes in the past, deadlines within reading groups became more of a focus for me rather than understanding or even enjoying the material I was reading about.  Alone, I worked at my own pace, mostly through periods of lots of reading, and periods of hardly any.  A more dynamic reading style has helped me during my current year however.  A deadline to try to meet along with a more casual, “read what you can,” during that time.  I see many classmates that read at different levels around me, but similarly will thrive in the dynamic environment they’re in.  

So what if people like working together.  If it works, why worry about it?  Well I want to make it clear, students will find some sort of success under most standard conditions in schools.  I am simply looking at the effectiveness of various environments.  Per Elisha Joy Bryson of The University of Pennsylvania, sometimes, given certain conditions, it is hard for us to even conclude a difference between students effectiveness due to the amount of variance in students themselves.  Ultimately the question being asked may have too many variables for us to answer the broad overall question.  To truly achieve academic efficiency with every student, you realistically would need to cater to each of their learning styles, which isn’t out of the question, it would just take a lot of resources.

The Stanford University Newsletter on Teaching wrote a paper regarding group work and found that students worked more effective on large projects in groups of 4-6 students.  In certain situations, larger groups of 8-10 seemingly were just as effective.  Research from many different sources have pointed out that peer collaborative work is a largely situational subject that really doesn’t have a definitive answer.  The kind of work being done it that class should moreso reflect how students work rather than an overall trend in the student population.

So I guess one of the last questions here might be, what should we do about it then.  I mean, if there’s no real discernable difference between learning with or without your peers, why give this topic any thought?  The answer is, that we must always be collectively striving to improve ourselves.  Every student varies widely and it might be a mistake to try to generalize millions of students and decide that one certain learning style is more effective.  This means that the responsibility is on us students to take action on our own behalf.  We need to explore and understand where each of our strengths and weaknesses lie, and develop and learning pattern that reflects them.  

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