Facilitating peer-led group research through virtual collaboration spaces: an exploratory research study

Keywords: near-peer mentoring, collaborative learning, team environments


Peer-led group learning is a variation of collaborative learning and is based on ‘small groups of students meeting regularly with a peer – one who has additional expertise in the subject matter – to work on problems collaboratively’ (Pazos, Micari, and Light 2010). In this study, we explored how a Slack team environment could be used in a blended course design to support students working remotely on individual research projects, helping them in collaborative trouble-shooting and problem-solving activities with their ‘near peer’. We drew on lessons learned from an initial trial (2017–2018 cohort) to inform a revised peer-led research design (2018–2019 cohort).

Our findings demonstrate the potential of collaborative platforms such as Slack to support near-peer learning, providing distinct channels for questioning, ideas sharing and agile problem-solving support in response to individual queries. The peer-led support contributed to high levels of engagement with the project work and deeper learning, helping less confident students to learn from group members and achieve positive outcomes in their own project work. We discuss the necessary conditions for effective peer-led learning to take place within a virtual space – identifying the clear communication of instructional roles, socialisation of students and responsiveness of near peers as factors influencing the adoption of the targeted learning methods – which we addressed in our revised peer-led design.


Download data is not yet available.


Anderson, M., et al. (2015) ‘Near-peer mentor model: synergy within mentoring’, Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 116–132. doi: 10.1080/13611267.2015.1049017

Chen, J., et al. (2018) ‘The role of collaboration, computer use, learning environments, and supporting strategies in CSCL: a meta-analysis’, Review of Educational Research, vol. 88, no. 6, pp. 799–843. doi: 10.3102/0034654318791584

Dillenbourg, P., Järvelä, S. and Fischer, F. (2009) ‘The evolution of research on computer-supported collaborative learning’, in Technology-Enhanced Learning, eds N. Balacheff, et al., Springer, Dordrecht, pp. 3–19. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4020-9827-7_1

Evans, D. J. & Cuffe, T. (2009) ‘Near-peer teaching in anatomy: an approach for deeper learning’, Anatomical Sciences Education, vol. 2, pp. 227–233. doi: 10.1002/ase.110

Fahnert, B. (2015) ‘On your marks, get set, go! – lessons from the UK in enhancing employability of graduates and postgraduates’, FEMS Microbiology Letters, vol. 362, no. 19, pp. 1–6. doi: 10.1093/femsle/fnv150

Fischer, F. & Mandl, H. (2005) ‘Knowledge convergence in computer-supported collaborative learning: the role of external representation tools’, Journal of the Learning Sciences, vol. 14, pp. 405–441. doi: 10.1207/s15327809jls1403_3

Fox, S. & Mackeogh, K. (2003) ‘Can e-learning promote higher-order learning without tutor overload?’, Open Learning, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 121–134. doi: 10.1080/02680510307410

Gan, B., Menkhoff, T. & Smith, R. (2015) ‘Enhancing students’ learning process through interactive digital media: new opportunities for collaborative learning’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 51, no. part B, pp. 652–663. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.12.048

Guden, J. & Bellen, J. (2020) ‘A scoping review of the peer-led team learning to learner-participants and peer leaders in STEM courses’, International Journal of Research Studies in Education, vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 1–13. doi: 10.5861/ijrse.2020.5008

Jeong, L., et al. (2020) ‘Virtual peer teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic’, Medical Science Educator, vol. 30, pp.1361–1362. doi: 10.1007/s40670-020-01065-1

Lategan, J. (2016) ‘Enhancing employability through group work’, Microbiology Australia, vol. 37, pp. 88–89. doi: 10.1071/MA16029

Lipponen, L. (2002) ‘Exploring foundations for computer-supported collaborative learning’, Proceedings of the Computer-supported Collaborative Learning Conference, Jan 7–11, Boulder, CO, pp. 72–81, [online] Available at: https://repository.isls.org/bitstream/1/3924/1/72-81.pdf

Marginson, S. (2020) ‘Global HE as we know it has forever changed’, Times Higher Education, March 26, [online] Available at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/global-he-we-know-it-has-forever-changed

Murphy, K., et al. (2005) ‘A constructivist model of mentoring, coaching, and facilitating online discussions’, Distance Education, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 341–366. doi: 10.1080/01587910500291454

Pazos, P., Micari, M. & Light, G. (2010) ‘Developing an instrument to characterise peer-led groups in collaborative learning environments: assessing problem-solving approach and group interaction’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 191–208. doi: 10.1080/02602930802691572

Quitadamo, I., Brahler, J. & Crouch, G. (2009) ‘Peer-led team learning: a prospective method for increasing critical thinking in undergraduate science courses’, Physical Therapy Faculty Publications, vol. 45 [online]. Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/dpt_fac_pub/45

Rapanta, C., et al. (2020) ‘Online university teaching during and after the covid-19 crisis: refocusing teacher presence and learning activity’, Postdigital Science and Education, vol. 2, pp. 923–945. doi: 10.1007/s42438-020-00155-y

Rodriguez, M. (2014) ‘Content analysis as a method to assess online discussions for learning’, SAGE Open, vol. 4. no. 4, pp. 1–13. doi: 10.1177/2158244014559019

Smith, J., et al. (2014) ‘Replicating peer-led team learning in cyberspace: research, opportunities, and challenges’, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, vol. 51, pp. 714–740. doi: 10.1002/tea.21163

Stover, L. A., et al. (2000) ‘The teaching teams program: empowering undergraduates in a student-centered research university’, in Student-Assisted Teaching: A Guide to Faculty–Student Teamwork, eds J. Miller, J. Groccia, & M. Miller, Anker, Bolton, MA, pp. 40–43.

Tenenbaum, L., et al. (2014) ‘An innovative near-peer mentoring model for undergraduate and secondary students: STEM focus’, Innovative Higher Education, vol. 39, pp. 1–11. doi: 10.1007/s10755-014-9286-3

Tien, T., Roth, V. & Kampmeier, J. (2002) ‘Implementation of a peer-led team learning instructional approach in an undergraduate organic chemistry course’, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, vol. 39. no. 7, pp. 606–632. doi: 10.1002/tea.10038

Voce, J., et al. (2021) UCISA Technology-Enhanced Learning Survey 2020, [online] Available at: https://www.ucisa.ac.uk/TEL2020

Walker, R. & Arnold, I. (2004) ‘Introducing Group-Based asynchronous learning to business education. Reflections on effective course design and delivery’, Educational Media International, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 253–265. doi:10.1080/09523980410001680860

Walker, R. & Baets, W. (2009) ‘Instructional design for class-based and computer-mediated learning: Creating the right blend for student-centered learning’, in Applied e-learning and e-teaching in higher education, eds R. Donnelly & F. McSweeney, Hershey: Information Science Reference, pp. 241–261. doi: 10.4018/978-1-59904-814-7

Webster, J. & Hackley, P. (1997) ‘Teaching effectiveness in technology-mediated distance learning’, Academy of Management Review, vol. 40, no. 6, pp. 1282–1309. doi: 10.2307/257034

Wilson, S. B. & Varma-Nelson, P. (2016) ‘Small groups, significant impact: a review of peer-led team learning research with implications for STEM education researchers and faculty’, Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 93, no. 10, pp. 1686–1702. doi: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.5b00862

Yang, Y.-T. (2015) ‘Virtual CEOs: a blended approach to digital gaming for enhancing higher order thinking and academic achievement among vocational high school students’, Computers & Education, vol. 81, pp. 281–295. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2014.10.004

Zaniewski, A. M. & Reinholz, D. (2016) ‘Increasing STEM success: a near-peer mentoring program in the physical sciences’, International Journal of STEM Education, vol. 3, no. 14, pp. 1–12. doi: 10.1186/s40594-016-0043-2
How to Cite
Walker, R., Chong, S., & Chong, J. (2021). Facilitating peer-led group research through virtual collaboration spaces: an exploratory research study. Research in Learning Technology, 29. https://doi.org/10.25304/rlt.v29.2520
Original Research Articles