The first, most noticeable difference between peer learning and individual learning is perspective. I know when I am researching or writing about a topic, I can get very focused on one or two ideas that can take over my work. This can cause my work to become repetitive and overly narrow. As I’ve shared my work/ideas with others, I’ve found that there are advantages to the perspective of someone who hasn’t dug in quite as deeply, and is less restricted by the tunnel-vision I may have. For example, I felt my inquiry question drifting into more abstract, intangible ideas, that were less and less connected to our course work this semester. Through our peer learning session, Robert provided a set of tools that fit nicely into my inquiry question. The resources he shared were helpful from a practical standpoint, but more importantly, they were a tool that allowed me reset and break out my tunnel vision. For me, the most valuable element of peer learning was grounding my ideas and refocusing my inquiry question.
Beyond the direct personal feedback, the public nature of the conversations and comments allowed me to learn from the inquiry and comments of others, even when they had nothing to do with my own work. Sometimes, it can be easy to feel like your work exists in a vacuum and that no one is working through the same issues as you. Seeing others post about their inquiry questions and how they are evolving was helpful for me. I like that, even though our inquiry questions differ, we each have varied experiences that may be able to help our classmates out. The comments I saw from my classmates made me think differently about how someone else may view my work.
I’ve mentioned this throughout the semester, but the act of publishing work goes beyond just the formatting and structure. When we make blog posts or share our inquiry questions, we are either explicitly or implicitly thinking about our audience, which will affect the language we use, and the tools we use to communicate. I think that peer learning is an ongoing project with our class, and even though we haven’t met, knowing that our classmates will see our work has changed the look and feel of that work. I find it interesting that often, blogs (and other published work) comes from the perspective of an expert. In our class, although we have interests and areas where we all might be experts, we are writing and posting about connected learning as we learn about it. We are developing and honing our expertise, but doing so publicly. I think this act of open learning is something that would be much more intimidating to do alone, so just the passive presence of classmates reading and posting about similar topics provides much needed support.
I think this supporting, safe learning environment is the most important takeaway I will use as a teacher. In mathematics, it is vitally important to feel comfortable making mistakes. So much of math can be counter-intuitive and require practice. This demands a classroom that allows students to collaborate and learn without the fear of making mistakes. Like our shared Google Doc, there is value not only in the finished products, but in the process of editing and adjusting. In a math classroom, its likely that some students will make similar mistakes, and it will be important that my students are ready to share their errors and help each other understand better.