Research Question 3

In what ways do students find value in the study buddy activity?

Given the finding from the quantitative analysis that the study buddy activity did not significantly promote deeper approaches to learning, the third research question in this investigation became more important in order to determine the characteristics of the study buddy activity and its value for participants. A clearer understanding of how study buddy participants valued the activity may provide insight into how the activity could be improved to increase its effect on student approaches to learning.

Survey items were designed to align with Slavin’s (2011) integrated model of cooperative learning, which proposes the following four ways in which cooperative learning activities support improved learning:

  • increased learner motivation,
  • increased social cohesion,
  • developmentally appropriate challenges, and
  • increased cognitive elaboration.

Survey results, shown in table 13, revealed that participants credited the study buddy activity with providing a high level of social cohesion (mean score=4.12). Of particular interest was the finding that nearly all of the participants (96%) indicated that they wanted to help their partner, suggesting that one way to enhance the effect of cooperative learning activities is to capitalize on students’ altruism, i.e., their desire to help others in their class or group.

Table 13

The next most valued category was developmentally appropriate challenges (mean score=3.70), which reflected the importance of having partners who were both willing and able to provide meaningful feedback within their partner’s zone of proximal development.

The motivationalist perspective followed closely behind (mean score=3.62), followed lastly by the cognitive restructuring perspective (mean score=2.92). The low value attributed to the cognitive restructuring perspective was somewhat surprising. This finding was primarily due to the very few participants who reported disagreeing with their study buddy partner about important course concepts. However, even when this item was excluded from the data, the cognitive restructuring perspective remained the lowest with a mean score of 3.46.Considering that intellectual conflict is highly desirable if the goal is to promote critical thinking and clear communication (Johnson & Johnson, 1999a), especially given that this was a graduate-level course, it is notable that so few participants in the study reported disagreeing about course concepts. However, this lack of disagreement may have been due to the belief that study buddy partners were supposed to help each other, rather than challenge each other’s views. Perhaps intellectual conflict could be promoted to a greater degree by providing specific questions that study buddy partners could use to explore their partner’s views. It is possible that these types of questions are a key structure missing from the study buddy activity and that including them may promote deeper approaches to learning. Questions such as the following could be included:

  • How did you come to that conclusion?
  • How does this evidence support your conclusion?
  • How do you know ‘X’ is true?
  • Have you considered the evidence against your view?

Most of the findings regarding the aspects of the course that the study buddy activity might have helped to improve (Table 14) were positive, with one exception. Most participants indicated in their quantitative responses that the study buddy activity did not help them improve their professional understanding of what instructional design involved. This result was consistent with the previously reported benefits of the study buddy activity being primarily social as opposed to cognitive in nature (Table 13).

The final section of the survey, which asked whether or not participants would recommend the study buddy activity in other contexts showed that most of the participants (88%) would recommend the activity for MDDE 604 (the course in which the participants were enrolled), for other courses in the M.Ed. program, and as a general distance education strategy. 88% of participants answered in the affirmative for all three of these items. Only one respondent (6%) did not recommend the study buddy activity (Table 14).

Table 14

The non-participants in the study buddy activity (n=6) reported that they understood from the instructions what would be required to earn credit for the study buddy activity and that they primarily decided to not participate because of the time involved in the activity (Table 15). However, as there were only six participants in this study who did not participate in the study buddy activity, these results should be interpreted with caution and investigated further.

Table 15