Physics Education Research (PER) has shown that students leave the physics classroom holding the same misconceptions about physics they had when they entered. PER has demonstrated that these misconceptions are often deeply held and are difficult to change. The literature indicates that Peer Learning has advantages compared with traditional methods in producing conceptual change and that there are a number of potential benefits for utilising undergraduates as Peer Leaders in Peer Learning programmes. Gartner, Kohler, and Riessman (1971) summarised a number of beneficial cognitive processes that occur when Peer Leaders prepare for Peer Learning sessions. It is believed that in reviewing, organising and teaching the material, they may gain a better understanding of the subject. However, little or no literature exists on the effect participation has on Peer Leaders or their experience of a Peer Learning programme. In particular, few studies determining the effect of participation on the Peer Leaders in physics at third level exist. The purpose of this study is to explore the effect of becoming a Peer Leader, to investigate the experience of becoming a Peer Leader, and to illuminate the implications of using undergraduate Peer Leaders in physics tutorials at third level.
A model of Peer Learning was designed and implemented in physics tutorials at the University of Limerick and the Peer Leaders selected for this study had direct experience of undergraduate introductory physics courses. This Peer Learning model involved students working in cooperative groups with an undergraduate Peer Leader as a facilitator of their learning. Training was provided to the Peer Leaders to ensure that they created an environment where the students were actively and productively engaged with the material and with each other. Action research was chosen as the central methodology of this thesis, within this, two cases and several mixed research methods were employed. Conceptual tests, questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and application forms were the methods of data collection. The action cycles of the study contained two different cases of Peer Leaders recruited from the third year classes of students following concurrent science teacher education programmes at the University of Limerick.
This thesis presents findings on the effects of participation on the Peer Leaders, their experience of the programme, and the implications for utilising undergraduate Peer Leaders in physics tutorials. Peer Leaders responses on the change in their conceptual understanding are reported along with the benefits that they claim to have experienced. Findings on the Peer Leaders misconceptions in Introductory Physics and their views on how they learn physics as a student and as a teacher are presented. HEA