Interactive Sciences has long used
"peer tutoring" to help people learn and teach about technology. Peer
tutoring is a fast, friendly, and easy way to learn almost anything.
A typical peer tutoring session using the computer has one student teach two others. The tutor sits near the learners and never touches the keyboard. Lesson plans help remind the tutor how and when to introduce new concepts and provide an easy streamlined sequence.
After six to ten hours of instruction (typically one or two hours per week or over a weekend) and some additional practice, the learners are themselves able to serve as tutors. With this "each one teach two" approach, starting with just one student, you can generate hundreds of tutors within a few months and thousands within a single year.
It's much easier to learn when someone is right there to help you.
It's much more fun to learn when a peer is helping you rather than a computer program or a busy teacher.
It's fun to teach others too.
Tutoring others reinforces what you've just learned. There's an old saying that in order to know something, you first have to teach it.
Studies show that the total time for learning and then tutoring is less than the time needed for conventional learning.
Peer tutoring means learning is more social.
Learning from others and then helping others learn shows how a whole community of education can be built.
Many learners enjoy being the "expert" for once, rather than always being taught to.
Peer tutoring curriculum is much simpler than expensive computer-based education, so new subjects can be introduced quickly into schools and communities.
Since just one tutor can lead to thousands, teachers can use student expertise to help them introduce new subjects.
Here are some examples:
At Ronald McNair Middle School in the East Palo Alto School District in 1994, a core group of students attended a weekend workshop to learn about the Internet and how to explain it to others. They then held an intensive Internet training day to teach hundreds of their schoolmates to use e-mail, the Web, visit news groups, and more. This project was sponsored by NASA.
In San Jose, over eight hundred educators attended the San Jose Education Network Summer Institute in 1994. Students from a number of San Jose schools taught Internet skills to the teachers, a role-reversal that peer tutoring often makes possible.
In Jordan Middle School in the Palo Alto School District, peer tutoring was used to teach over a thousand students to program in Basic and to use a sophisticated word processing program. As a September 1983 Psychology Today article about our project indicated, we found that:
"children who have never written a legible sentence in their lives are soon composing letter-perfect paragraphs and experiencing levels of communication they feared would be denied them forever. That kind of rapid success makes an enormous difference in how people feel about themselves, and about learning."
At the Stanford Institute for Microcomputers in Education, over 360 educators were taught word processing, spreadsheet use, and programming by junior and senior high school students. The educators then taught each other these skills, using a type of peer tutoring we call "cross-tutoring". PC Magazine (October 1982) visited the Institute and wrote that:
"Peer tutoring, a concept older than the one-room schoolhouse, is an idea whose time has come again. ISI has updated it with its Computer Tutor method, a system that promotes a chain reaction of learning."
Peer tutoring is being used to teach in thousands of other situations. Here are two interesting discussions of peer tutoring, one about a project to teach literacy throughout an entire nation, the other detailing how peer tutoring can be more cost-effective than alternative methods in U.S. schools:
Children of the Revolution: A Yankee Teacher in the Cuban Schools
Delacorte Press, 1978.
Cost-effectiveness of four educational interventions.
Levin, H., Glass, V., & Meister, G.
Stanford, CA: Institute for Research on Educational Finance and
Governance, School of Education, Stanford University, 2-42, 1984.