Data of the autonomy project were mainly collected from questionnaire and focus group interviews with students. Below is a summary of the findings based on the questionnaire and the focus group interviews.
A. Results from questionnaire
The questionnaire copies were given to 25 students (out of 28 students in total) present in the last class, and 23 copies were returned. One of them was false due to the incompletion of the questionnaire. In total, 22 copies were used for analysis.
The bar chart below presents an overview of questionnaire results of Question 1 – 10 (Figure 1). Most students (91%) agreed that peer teaching actively involved them in the learning process, and they had learned a lot about Hong Kong Pop Culture through peer teaching. About 95% of the students reported that they learned something about teaching and learning from this course, and would like to try it in their own teaching when they become a teacher in the future. Many students (86%) reported they benefited from the independent inquiry sessions during class. As for peer learning among groups, 82% of the students declared that they learned a lot from other groups’ teaching during this course while 91% of them thought that their classmates also learned from them reciprocally. All students reported that they had sufficient support from their group mates and 86% of them said that they had sufficient support from the course lecturer. About 86% of the students claimed that they had become more autonomous through this course.
When students were asked how they felt about using peer teaching in this course, they commented that peer teaching made the course more enjoyable (68%), interesting (59%), communicative (54%), effective (36%), collaborative (36%), active (5%), but time-consuming (36%). Some thought it made the course more insecure (18%), inefficient (9%) and difficult (5%) for them.
For the open-ended quesiton, student made some suggestions about how to improve the use of peer teaching in this course in terms of timing, grouping, content and structure as below (extracted exactly from the questionnaires):
λ Peer teaching is good way to inspire study, but too much is time-consuming. Adjust the time to spend it.
λ Only choose a group/few groups to present/teach.
λ Encourage students more to speak up, picking quiet and shy students to contribute. Also time planning.
λ Time planning => lessons run always out of time; stricter behavior towards people who are too late: it’s annoying to wait every time.
λ Form groups from beginning so people stay in one group and they can learn more consistently; Consistent groups means students can learn how others in their group learn/teach; Peer teaching is a great way to promote interaction and collaboration and it’s a nice change from most other lectures/classes.
λ I think the focus is narrow in this course. I mean the course should also include popular culture from other countries, as we got quite a number of foreign students here and I really want to know more about culture. Also, they may think it’s boring to just learn HK popular culture.
λ Maybe a better classroom setting? The topics of the course could be more various for exploration.
λ Reflection and feedback from others;
λ I personally would like to suggest that if the lectures conducted by the professor and peer teaching by students can be mixed by at the same time, it could be more interesting;
λ I think it would be better for the lecturer to tell us what is the requirement of peer teaching and how can we have peer teaching;
λ Rather quality than quantity;
λ In the Netherlands we use this as well, but the peer teaching in this class was too much. You have to make more different styles in the lecture. Like a project or something. Because after my second peer teaching, it was boring.
B. Findings from focus group interviews
Four focus group interviews involving 13 students were conducted to get students’ feedback on the practice of peer teaching. The first three interviews were conducted during the course. Three groups with 11 students participated in interviews. The fourth one was conducted at the end of course. Two students from different groups participated in it. Questions were framed in three aspects: students’ understanding of the concept of peer teaching, practice of peer teaching, and their development of learner autonomy. Students’ responses to those questions are outlined below:
1. Understanding peer teaching
Students took peer teaching as a way of sharing and teaching each other something from different perspectives. Students were expected to do research, learn something and then teach others. The teacher could also learn from students. But some students thought it should include the assessment part, giving feedback on peer teaching by teachers and peers. Some thought peer teaching might not work well for some subjects, such as grammar course. And some were concerned that peers might provide wrong information and mislead others.
2. Practice of peer teaching
Benefits from doing peer teaching
Students reported that they benefited from doing peer teaching during the course as below:
λ Making the course more interesting, a lot of fun, with students’ voices;
λ Knowing different ways of thinking and speaking, opportunities to exchange cultures;
λ Building presentation skills, articulating own thinking and enhancing own understanding;
λ Can learn many different things in one session, learning a lot from other groups;
λ Good opportunities to communicate with each other, lots of interactions and communications, more familiar with each other;
λ Listening to others is a kind of learning;
λ Helpful to take the challenge of starting an interaction with others, from being quiet to active in class;
λ Be flexible to work in the library, learning commons, canteen or even in the dormitory; can eat while working, relaxing;
λ Having learned how to do group work, manage own time and communicate with other group members;
λ Positive atmosphere: not hard to speak out, feel comfortable to speak in class, not embarrassed for poor English, very casual, speaking more English;
λ Very easy-going teacher with smiles always, making students to feel comfortable to speak;
λ Not laughing at others, but listen to each other;
Difficulties in practice
Students had the following difficulties in doing peer teaching:
λ English was a challenge for most of students: difficult to translate the content and opinions from Chinese to English;
λ Sometimes it was difficult for HK students to speak up. Local students need time to warm up before speaking;
λ Not enough time for some topics;
λ Didn’t know what to do sometimes;
λ Didn’t know how to upload the videos in Facebook;
λ The topic was very big, not specific, feeling insecure;
Suggestions for improving peer teaching
Students gave some suggestions about how to improve the use of peer teaching in this course:
• Feedback: There should be feedback either from the tutor or peers on peer teaching presentation;
• Balance: sometimes too much interaction, wondering how much we have learned, could have some more theories;
• Quality rather than quantity: not to shorten the agreed time of presentation since students already made efforts on it; perhaps not give a group more than half an hour for presentation no matter how many members are there in the group; and quality of presentation is more important than giving each ten minutes for presentation;
• Tutorial: not feeling very much inspired from the tutorial, but remains at the same point; need more feedback from the tutor to be inspired;
• Presentation: not to have all presentations at the end and at the same day, boring to listen to 3 or 5 presentations at one session; perhaps combining teacher lecture with student presentation each time;
• Topic: too local, not popular any more in our generation, not much to share. Should be easier to use English if topics are more international. Should be good to have more cultural exchanges in class rather than focusing only on Hong Kong.
• Time: more time to prepare;
• Instructions: give some outline/guideline/questions for group work;
3. Developing Learner autonomy
Students reported that they practised independent learning since they had to rely on themselves in this course. Due to peer teaching, everyone had to do independent and cooperative inquiry in the group and had to speak in front of the class. Students had more opportunities to make their own voices and have more contribution to the class. They were motivated to find own interests. They felt that they were pushed to be autonomous.
Most students will love to try peer teaching in their own teaching practice in the future, but they will consider some factors that may impact on the effectiveness of peer teaching, such as students’ level of English, age, subject, time, and workload.
Summary of the findings from the focus group interviews
To conclude, students took peer teaching as opportunities to share with and learn from each other. They expected more feedback from the tutor and peers on their peer teaching. They enjoyed the positive atmosphere created by peer teaching, which made them feel free and comfortable to speak in class. They also became aware of the diversities of speaking, thinking, learning and teaching as well as cultural differences. They benefited from communication in class and groups. It was interesting to observe the different behaviours and reactions towards peer teaching among students from various countries, which reflected different cultures of teaching and learning in their own countries. Language barrier was the biggest challenge in peer teaching since most students found it difficult to translate cultural issues into English. Students also gave constructive suggestions about how to improve the way the strategy of peer teaching is used in the future in terms of balance, quality of presentation, topics, etc. Students reported that they were pushed to be autonomous. Most of them would like to try the strategy of peer teaching in their own teaching in the future.