Schools aren't the only places people learn, and in the field of educational technology, informal learning is receiving increasing attention. In informal learning peers are of primary importance. But, how do you discover what works in peer learning? If you want to discover what peers do for one other so that you can then set up situations and technologies that maximize peer learning, where do you get your data from? You can study groups of children and hope that informal learning will happen and hope that you have a large enough sample to witness examples of each kind of peer teaching that you hope to study.
Or you can make a peer Unfortunately, the biological approach takes years, care and feeding is expensive, diary studies are out of fashion, and in any case the human subjects review board frowns on the kind of mind control that would allow one to manipulate the peer so as to provoke different learning reactions. And so, in my own research, I chose to make a bionic peer.
In this talk I describe the results from a series of studies where we manipulate a bionic peer to see the effects of various kinds of peer behavior on learning. The peer is sometimes older and sometimes younger than the learners, sometimes the same race and sometimes a different race, sometimes speaking at the same developmental level – and in the same dialect – and the learners, and sometimes differently. In each case we are struck by how much learning occurs when peers play, how learning appears to be potentiated by the rapport between the real and virtual child, and how many lessons we learn about the more general nature of informal learning mediated by technology.
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