A New Peer Instruction Method for Teaching Practical Skills in the Health Sciences: an Evaluation of the ‘Learning Trail’
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- Dollman, J. Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract (2005) 10: 125. doi:10.1007/s10459-004-2321-x
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The ‘Learning Trail’ is an innovative application of peer-mediated instruction designed to enhance student learning in large practical classes. The strategy specifically seeks to improve participants’ attention to details of protocol that are often difficult to observe during teacher-centered demonstrations to large groups. Students (n=68) at the University of South Australia trialed this strategy, in which instruction in anthropometric techniques is initiated by an instructor to a group of 3–4 students and then sent in ‘waves’ from one student group to the next. The final group in the sequence demonstrates the techniques to the instructor, who notes any departures from technical accuracy. As each technical module is flowing from group to group, the instructor initiates the next ‘wave’ with the first group, and the process is repeated until all of the relevant skills are processed. The final stage is a full class discussion during which sources of technical error are identified and resolved. In this trial, students taught skinfold measurement by the peer instructed method (PI; n=33) were compared with a traditionally instructed group (TI; n=35), in which the instructor was responsible for all information transfer. For each participant, technical errors of measurement (TEM) were calculated; the intra-tester TEM as a measure of reliability, and the inter-tester TEM, in which the student’s measures are compared with those of a criterion anthropometrist to give an indication of validity. There were no differences between TI and PI groups on intra-tester TEM (p=0.24), but the PI group had a lower inter-tester TEM for pooled skinfold sites (p=0.006) and for one individual site (triceps; p=0.007), but not the other three sites. The time taken to complete the whole set of instructions did not differ between delivery modes. The results of this trial suggest that the peer-mediated strategy may be more effective than teacher-centered instruction in terms of technical accuracy in anthropometry.