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Study: Students inspired by peers more than teachers

"As a student, I can identify with my peers and imagine myself using the course material in the same way they do," explained researcher Cary Roseth.

By Brooks Hays
Study: Students inspired by peers more than teachers
When Michigan State students were offered material rationale by their peers, they earned higher grades, researchers report in a new study. Photo by Michigan State University

March 21 (UPI) -- New research showed the endorsement of learning material by a student's peers is more essential to academic motivation than inspiration offered by a teacher.

Researchers at Michigan State University found college students were more likely to write well formulated essays and earn a higher class grade when actors posing as peers -- instead of an instructor -- explained the importance of the learning material.

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The findings, published in the journal International Journal of Educational Research, don't diminish the importance of teachers. Instructors are essential to communicating educational content, but the research showed peers are better able to tap into and translate the real world value of the subject matter.

"In other words, as a student, I can identify with my peers and imagine myself using the course material in the same way they do," Cary Roseth, an associate professor of educational psychology at Michigan State, said in a news release. "This gives the material meaning and a sense of purpose that goes beyond memorization. When I hear a peer's story, it connects to the story I am telling myself about who I want to be in the future."

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The study included students in an introductory psychology course. Some students received material rationale from peers, while others received rationale from instructors. Both justifications were scripted. Other students received no material inspiration.

Those who received peer-delivered inspiration earned a 92 percent in the course. Students offered material rationale by teachers scored an 86 percent. Those who received no rationale earned a 90 percent grade.

"We found that receiving the instructor rationale led to lower final grades than both the peer rationale and no rationale conditions," Roseth said. "This gives support to the idea that, motivationally, the fact that instructors control grades, tell the students what do to, and so on, may be working against their efforts to increase their students' appreciation of why the class is important."

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