An app to encourage engagement in collaborative pedagogy

Sam O’Neill and Aidan Mooney, Maynooth University.

Collaborative and peer learning is an essential aspect of third-level education and enables students to dive deeper into their studies with mutual support from their peers. Creating engaging, collaborative learning with a cohort of students who spent most of their second-level education during the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult, to say the least.
The disruption to their education and the straying from the traditional examination model have repercussions that we are still unravelling now.

Collaborative learning at third-level education can take place in many forms, class discussions and team projects, to name a few. The focus of this project has been on the creation and performance of study groups both online and in person. This hybrid model has allowed us to consider the positives from both sides and helped us limit the adverse effects.
The making of traditional study groups is typically impacted by factors such as location, class sizes and clashing schedules, with the addition of the post-pandemic impacts on social skills. A novel solution would need to account for all issues.

The proposed solution is a mobile application that can address the above issues by supporting study groups online and offline. Most importantly, this application focuses on accessibility with continuous improvements based on users’ feedback. Conducting testing of this model has so far taken place with entry-level programming courses as part of a mandatory computer laboratory. Students are asked to build an algorithm to answer a programming question collaboratively. A selection of students are asked to complete this task by communicating fully through the application. This situation simulates an online working environment. Separately other students have been asked to work together face-to-face. Both sets of students are measured on their response to the task and their understanding of the solution after completing the session.

While this methodology is trialled, we are exploring what aspects create the best engagement from students and create new features to help students work together more efficiently. Such as note sharing, group customisation and moderation.
So far, feedback has been gathered from a subject pool of 1093 students from 3 entry-level programming modules. The data received from this feedback is currently being analysed to understand the methodology’s impact on the student experience as the project continues.