I write from the perspective of a physicist who works closely on a range of research projects at Monash University. All of my research activities are collaborative, involving ongoing discussions with the small groups (say, three to five researchers) in which I work most effectively.

My discipline-based science research collaborations can all be viewed from an education perspective as a form of peer learning. This is the topic I want to examine in today's post.

Working on research problems in small groups is like a small student cohort setting and then completing its own group assignment by coming up with an important and interesting unanswered question, and then solving it.

These research discussions involve individual members of the “study group” throwing up an idea for progress on the given problem, which is then critiqued by other researchers in the cohort.  A particular individual’s understanding of a given idea, whether or not the said idea is their own, is deepened by the peer-learning process of seeking to convince the individual’s colleagues of the correctness and relevance of their idea.  The idea may stand the test of such dialectic, in which case it is incorporated into the “group assignment” and possibly developed further.  If the idea fails the test of the group dialectic, it may be discarded entirely in favour of another competing idea, or aspects of the broken idea may be incorporated into a new way forward. Ultimately, the group assignment is written up as a research paper.

David Boud defines peer learning as “students learning from and with each other in both formal and informal ways” (This quote is taken from http://www.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/Tomprof/postings/418.html , which also outlines some benefits of peer learning).  If "students" is replaced with "researchers" in the above quote, then you have an accurate description of most of my research collaborations!

Perhaps viewing peer learning in the classroom as an extension of peer learning in research groups may assist discipline-specific researchers in strengthening the effectiveness of their teaching by incorporating peer learning into their classroom teaching?  Better still, perhaps those discipline-specific researchers who have yet to enter the classroom may derive additional confidence to do so by recognizing parallels between the peer learning within their research groups and peer learning in an undergraduate setting?

NB: Thanks to Rowan Brookes for pointing out the peer learning link above, for feedback which improved this post, and also for pointing me to the open-access journal on peer learning at http://ro.uow.edu.au/ajpl/ .  Thanks to Rowan Brookes, Rebecca Adam and Amelia Grevis-James for getting this blog off the ground!