Facilitating learning in large lecture classes: testing the "teaching team" approach to peer learning

CBE Life Sci Educ. Winter 2010;9(4):489-503. doi: 10.1187/cbe.09-12-0093.


We tested the effect of voluntary peer-facilitated study groups on student learning in large introductory biology lecture classes. The peer facilitators (preceptors) were trained as part of a Teaching Team (faculty, graduate assistants, and preceptors) by faculty and Learning Center staff. Each preceptor offered one weekly study group to all students in the class. All individual study groups were similar in that they applied active-learning strategies to the class material, but they differed in the actual topics or questions discussed, which were chosen by the individual study groups. Study group participation was correlated with reduced failing grades and course dropout rates in both semesters, and participants scored better on the final exam and earned higher course grades than nonparticipants. In the spring semester the higher scores were clearly due to a significant study group effect beyond ability (grade point average). In contrast, the fall study groups had a small but nonsignificant effect after accounting for student ability. We discuss the differences between the two semesters and offer suggestions on how to implement teaching teams to optimize learning outcomes, including student feedback on study groups.

MeSH terms

  • Biology / education
  • Educational Measurement / methods*
  • Peer Group*
  • Problem-Based Learning / methods*
  • Students
  • Teaching / methods*