Peer-to-Peer: Online Learning Initiatives for Scholarly Writing in Graduate School for Nontraditional Students

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Brief Abstract

Nontraditional students often enter graduate programs without foundational writing and research proficiency. Instructors rarely cover these basics as the expectation is graduate-level work, yet students are ill-equipped. I created a bridge program taught by graduate students to graduate students scaffolded into four modules focusing on scholarly writing and research skills.


Ashley Butler has been working in the field of domestic and sexual violence for six years. This experience ranges from residential care, case management, legal advocacy, and supervision. She is currently the Program Coordinator of a New Jersey Family Justice Center. Ashley holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology from Rutgers University. She is currently studying at Adelphi University to obtain her Master of Social Work degree. Ashley has been a peer academic tutor to Bachelor and Master level students at Adelphi University for the past year. She serves on the School of Social Work Social Action Committee, where she also has assisted in research outcomes. Ashley is knowledgeable in the fields of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, and peer-to-peer learning.

Extended Abstract

Students teaching students is an effective model that assists in enhanced learning and facilitates ongoing support. Far too often students are accepted into graduate programs yet are not at the academic level professors expect. Instructors must cover course content often leaving little time to teach the process of academic writing and research skills. Universities need effective methods to increase learning opportunities for students in need. Graduate students, without appropriate knowledge of scholarly writing and research skills, rarely have ongoing success.
Informally, students don’t know what they don’t know, right? This brings us to the conscious competence theory (Burch, 1970) which has four stages of competence; ignorance, awareness, learning, and mastery. I have created a curriculum that is intended to bring graduate students from ignorance to learning. The modules bring awareness of what students do not know, which will assist them in beginning their learning journey with additional guidance. This curriculum encompasses four specific modules of research skills and scholarly writing, taught by students for students, which fosters an additional learning environment outside of the traditional classroom. These four modules include: finding scholarly sources, fostering communities, the content, and writing in APA. Notably, these four modules are purposely designed as customizable blocks (e.g., writing in MLA) that can be adapted to any graduate program's needs, but are best taught in the designed module order. 
Student support from a peer may foster greater growth and increased confidence in one’s learning versus feedback from an instructor where one’s grade is prioritized. There is an unequal power differential between professor and student, which is why peer to peer learning is best suited for this curriculum. Peer to peer support can create a sense of community for students, especially in an online learning environment.
Often, graduate students' needs, specific to academic writing in the traditional classroom, are ignored. To bridge this gap, a student taught curriculum provides students with additional support and further success for their future. Students are able to make connections and build relationships with other students that also assists in their learning processes. An online graduate program can easily become isolating. Providing peer to peer support, in an online environment, aids in the need for human connection. This can empower students to take control of their learning journey in a supportive community setting. Online learning is a major advantage for nontraditional students which tend to include adult learners, first generation students, and those who are probationary status students. The advantages to an online learning environment include convenience, flexibility, meeting a wider range of peers, often perceived as less intimidating, and cost-effective. When striving for an equitable learning environment, online learning provides a platform that is effective for nontraditional students. 
This asynchronous presentation provides an opportunity for a roundtable approach that fosters a dialogue around student to student learning in graduate programs. Attendees will be given the opportunity to share their experiences along with strategies to create an inclusive curriculum for graduate programs during or after the conference. This presentation will engage attendees in an in depth thought process around the topic of student to student learning in an online environment. Attendees will be able to see the importance of fostering a space for graduate student growth and ongoing success by a student taught curriculum. Student taught learning gives an opportunity to reinforce what professors are teaching in their courses. Retention is an integral part of higher educational learning for students.  
I will be discussing my experiences during a one year period of providing student peer tutoring services. I will highlight probationary status student needs, adult learners, first generation students, and the positive effects of peer to peer learning and support to enhance future successes. In this curriculum that I present, I will discuss key learning objectives of each module, case examples, and barriers. In module one, students learn to search for scholarly sources, identify appropriate sources for their research topics, how to read articles effectively, and be able to identify peer reviewed sources and scholarly articles. During module two, I cover how to utilize university resources and form productive study groups. Throughout module three, students learn ways to avoid plagiarism, grammar foundations, the importance of proofreading, and creating outlines. In the fourth module, students will learn basic APA 7th Edition guidelines and formatting. 
The curriculum has four live sessions with an asynchronous component. Students enrolled in this curriculum are expected to access online videos and readings prior to their live sessions. Live sessions give students the opportunity to discuss the course contents with peers. These four modules can be utilized across disciplines in graduate programs. Attendees will be knowledgeable about the four modules, understand the key learning objectives for each module, and the benefits of peer to peer teaching for nontraditional graduate school students.