DESIGNING A PEER CONSULTATION SYSTEM TO SUPPORT STUDENTS IN WRITING THEIR POST-GRADUATE THESES - EXPERIENCE FROM A UAS BUSINESS MASTER'S PROGRAMME

C. Kummer, T. Semmler-Matošić

University of Applied Sciences Burgenland (AUSTRIA)
Student-centred collaborative learning styles are becoming more and more important in the European Higher Education Area. At the same time, Austrian universities increasingly offer coaching and consultation. In line with these trends, the objective of this work was to design a supervised peer coaching system for business master’s students at the UAS Burgenland. While working on their post-graduate theses, students at a university of applied sciences find themselves in transition from a planned time-table to independent academic work. This loss of structure confronts them with professional and psycho-social challenges; e. g. little experience with academic language; loss of social support by the community of university colleagues; confrontation with writing blocks.

Peer groups offer students solution-driven, cooperative consultation in a non-hierarchical setting. These learning conditions foster problem-solving skills, the analytical approach towards research questions, and reflective thinking skills. In this pilot teaching project, students worked together in small groups (4-6 members) for two semesters. They met every six weeks to discuss the status quo of their theses, assessing each other’s contribution and engaging in a critical but creative feedback process. Various elements of problem based learning were integrated in the guidelines for these “leaderless” meetings; e. g., students had to arrange follow-up activities to support each other’s progress.

This paper reflects the teaching team’s experiences with the above-described peer group model, which involves three alternating roles and provides a structured format. Moreover, the results of a standardised survey among 45 students are presented, highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of the consultation system from the learners’ perspective. The findings suggest that peer consultation is helpful for students in conceptual phases rather than operative writing phases of their theses. Respondents enjoyed the group dynamics as well as the motivation and resource boosting effects of peer consultation, however, they criticised high time expenditure and scheduling difficulties for the peer group meetings. Small groups with constant members and respectful communication within the peer group were considered to be important preconditions of successful consultations.