Learning and Teaching Investment Fund 2011

Summary of projects

Poster of Progect - Contribute: Peer learning for inclusive practice in Art and Design

Project title

Contribute: Peer learning for inclusive practice in Art and Design

Project leaders

  • Professor Barbara de la Harpe
  • Dr Scott Mayson
  • Thembi Mason
  • Professor Richard Blythe
  • Professor Elizabeth Grierson

Project team

Leadership Team

  • Barbara de la Harpe, DSC College Office, DSC
  • Megan McPherson, Principal Project Manager, DSC College Office, DSC
  • Angela Clarke, Co Project Manager, DSC College Office, DSC
  • Thembi Mason, DSC College Office, DSC

Project Team

  • Dr Scott Mayson, Lecturer, Industrial Design, Architecture and Design, DSC
  • Liam Fennessy, Acting Program Director, Industrial Design, Chair Learning &Teaching, Architecture and Design, DSC
  • Kellyann Geurts, Senior Lecturer, Art, DSC
  • Dr Anuja Cabraal, Qualitative Analysis, DSC College Office, DSC
  • Nicholas Faulkner, Quantitative Analysis, DSC College Office, DSC

Project summary

In this LTIF project a structured peer learning approach was trialled in Semester 2, 2011 in core first year courses in the Fine Art program in the School of Art and in the Industrial Design program in the School of Architecture and Design. The peer learning approach provided students with time to work together in study groups to provide peer feedback on their studio projects. The program included concurrent support workshops, the use of mobile technologies appropriate to the disciplines, and the development of online learning and teaching support materials. The peer-to-peer learning activities were specifically designed to extend, enhance and maximise studio learning. The project was designed, implemented and evaluated using a mixed methods ADRI (Approach, Deployment, Reflection, and Improvement) action cycle methodology. For students, this involved exploring whether the approach enhanced their overall learning experience and academic achievement (including social inclusion). For staff, it explored the integration a peer learning process on staff knowledge of adapting curriculum.

Overall, outcomes were positive, especially for the Industrial Design student cohort. The majority of students reported that the program enhanced their learning and played a role in their personal and interpersonal development, including enhancing self-assessment; management of learning and how to learn; persistence; critical enquiry and reflection; communication and articulation of knowledge, understanding and skills; and confidence in giving and receiving feedback. In addition, and again especially for those in Industrial Design, it was enjoyable and led to socialising with peer group members outside of class. Where the program was explicitly included as part of assessment, it impacted positively (statistically significantly) on students’ overall academic achievement. Staff who engaged reported an increase in knowledge of adapting and aligning curriculum to incorporate the peer learning approach. Paying attention to and aligning with existing disciplinary practices; selecting a sufficiently authentic and complex peer learning task; using appropriate technology that has student endorsement and aligns with their expectations and current technology use and practices; introducing the approach carefully to ensure both staff and student buy-in; managing workloads as well as time and task expectations; while also gently nudging fixed or strongly held teacher centred role conceptions were identified as most critical to successful integration.

The peer learning approach has been recognised as a LEAD volunteer program by RMIT University Student Services, through the RMIT Student Leadership Development program, making it the first Academic Study Group Facilitation Program to be recognised at RMIT. The project is also providing an opportunity to engage in and disseminate the scholarship of teaching and learning in Art and Design disciplines through presentations and forthcoming conference and journal publications.


1. Improved student experience (as evidenced by student achievement and student feedback data. See Appendix 1)

In terms of student achievement, the project findings show that the average grade in the year that the peer learning studio study groups (SSGs) were introduced was higher than the average grade for the preceding three years. This suggests that SSGs may lead to higher grades. For the Industrial Design students, results showed that the mean grade in 2011 was significantly higher than the mean grade for 2008, 2009 and 2010 combined. Overall, the findings show that the average grade in courses that explicitly assessed peer learning was higher than the average grade for courses that did not.

In terms of learning, the overwhelming majority of students (88%) who responded to the survey reported that they found giving feedback in their peer studio groups helped them with their learning. For Industrial design students, the overwhelming majority (80%) reported that participating in the peer learning studio study groups enhanced their overall learning experience. Additionally, 71% of all students agreed or strongly agreed with the CES additional item that they thought that their studio study groups were helpful in assisting them to gain useful insights into their work.

In terms of confidence with peer feedback, the overwhelming majority of students (88.1%) reported that they had confidence in the feedback from members of their studio study groups. The percentage was similar for both groups; 86% for Industrial Design and 90% for Art students. In addition, the overwhelming majority of students (91%) reported being confident in giving their peers constructive feedback.

In terms of enjoyment almost three quarters (73%) of the Industrial Design students indicated enjoyment of the studio peer learning experience, while in Art, just under half (47%) reported enjoyment.

In terms of socialising results revealed that those who met with their peer studio study groups more frequently, whether in-class or outside of class, were more likely to have also engaged in social activities with members of their peer studio study groups.

In terms of personal and interpersonal development, students reported that the peer feedback process helped or motivated them in a number of ways including, helping them to appreciate how they were getting on; understand specific course content and where they had gone wrong; organise their approach to projects and subsequent projects; and motivate them to keep going and to try harder.

2. Enhanced staff knowledge of adapting curriculum to integrate a peer learning process

In terms of enhanced staff knowledge of adapting the curriculum to integrate peer learning, all fourteen staff who were involved in the project (4 in Industrial Design and 10 in Art) integrated peer learning into their courses and adapted their course guides in some way. Overall, half the staff (all 4 staff in Design and 3 of the 10 in Art) showed their commitment and willingness by adapting the assessment in their courses to include a focus on peer learning. In Industrial Design the first year course was redesigned to embed peer learning in group activities and the assessment adapted within the content and context of the discipline. Twenty percent (20%) of the first year core Industrial Design course assessment has been allocated to peer learning activities and students are now required to produce a reflective learning journal outlining their projects and the contribution of peer interaction and feedback to the process. Of the nine art courses, three have allocated 10% to assessment of peer learning activities. This is a positive outcome, given that changes in higher education assessment practices are reported in the literature as being notoriously difficult to impact. The use of peer learning will continue in both Schools in 2012 and the approach is also being expanded into TAFE programs in the School of Art, Media and Communication and Fashion and Textiles.

3. An integrated peer learning model, with accompanying self-directed online module

In terms of a model and self-directed online peer learning module, a Peer Learning Tertiary Educator Guide for academic staff and a student online Peer Learning Support Module, initially in Blackboard, have been developed.

The Tertiary Educator Guide is currently being further developed for the RMIT University DSC L&T website.

In addition, the Contribute: Peer learning for inclusive practice in Art and Design project has developed a suite of support tools to implement peer learning into studio teaching. These include:

A peer learning website for students based on the peer learning module (Blackboard wiki) utilised in semester 2, 2011 in the Contribute: Peer learning for inclusive practice in Art and Design project. This will allow greater access to more students and will be linked into myRMITstudies or easily accessed by staff and students directly through a link from other platforms, blog, facebook page etc.

A LEAD handbook for students to develop leadership and facilitation skills for peer study groups.

4. Evaluation of the suitability of mobile technologies to support an integrated peer learning model

In terms of the suitability of mobile technologies to support an integrated peer learning model, a number of factors were identified as critical to the uptake and use of mobile technologies namely; alignment with existing discipline practices, familiarity with online tools, a user unfriendly system, appropriate workloads, sufficient time, and strong integration and teacher encouragement and support.

5. Presentations to University of integrated peer learning model and scalability of model for adoption in other areas

In terms of presentations and adoption in other areas, a number of presentations were made and the peer learning program adapted and adopted as follows:


Cohort Experience Project Forum. The Contribute project was presented at the University Sharing Cohort Experiences Initiatives forum.


Peer learning expert Dr Don Lebler. A series of 4 meetings and presentations on Peer Learning and Assessment processes in the Contemporary Music Program at Griffith University were organised for DSC Schools, L&T academic Development staff and Senior Advisors as well as wider university audiences (approximately 60 University colleagues attended).

Podcast/s. A number of podcasts with bite-size information focused on peer learning, peer review and assessment are in progress. These will accompany the Tertiary Educator Guide.

LEAD Academic Study Group Facilitation Program. The Contribute project peer learning approach has been recognised as a volunteer program by RMIT University Student Services, through the RMIT Student Leadership Development program. This makes it the first Academic Study Group Facilitation Program to be recognised at RMIT.


Learning Lab and Study skills. A discussion with RMIT student services about wider uses for the Studio study group website has resulted in the University website being linked into the Learning lab and study skills site in 2012. This will make it widely accessible to both learning advisors and all RMIT students.

6. A number of scholarship of learning and teaching (SoTL) papers for publication that document practice and experiences

In terms of publications, a conference presentation and a refereed paper in the agIdeas Design for Business and Industry International conference paper and presentation are forthcoming 22/5/2012. Only 32 Abstracts were accepted from over 200 submissions, of which only 11 full papers were selected for publication.

Journal articles for publication in Academic journals are in progress.

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