Peer-Led Team Learning (Case Study 2)

Retaining Women through Collaborative Learning

Lower course drop rates and higher grades are the common outcomes achieved through peer-led team learning (PLTL) in computer science. In addition to advantages for PLTL participants, peer leaders also benefit from this experience, e.g., gaining greater confidence to continue in CS. For example, at the University of Texas at El Paso, weekly training sessions for peer leaders focus on deepening their understanding of cooperative team and professional skills such as conflict management, shared leadership, and techniques for dealing with adversity. These weekly sessions improve the effectiveness of the PLTL sessions, the retention of women, and the development of leaders. One training activity has peer leaders role play a workshop session. The other peer leaders and faculty mentors, who have expertise in cooperative learning techniques, critique the scenario. These training activities allow students to dig deeper into understanding their role in building effective learning communities.

Some institutions offer weekly two-hour workshops for students in introductory CS courses. Recruitment for these workshops targets women, minority students, and students from small rural high schools. Each workshop has five to eight students led by a well-trained undergraduate. The students work together on interesting group exercises, helping and learning from each other.

Susan Horwitz, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provided the sample group exercise for PLTL in computer science. This exercise is designed to improve understanding of several concepts in Java programming:

  • What happens when objects are declared and created, and when methods are called?

  • What is the difference between copying from one variable to another when the variable is an object and when it is a primitive type?

  • What is the difference between changing values of variables that are objects and changing values of variables that are primitive types?

Steps in the PLTL “Car Class” Activity

  1. Group members read through the Car class definition provided by their leader.

  2. Each student chooses one variable that she will represent.

  3. Students act out the role of their variable as specified in the code fragment to the right:




  • For more sample exercises and information about the NSF-funded PLTL consortium in computer science, visit:
  • Case Study Contributors: Susan B. Horwitz and Ann Q. Gates

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Authors: Lecia Barker and J. McGrath Cohoon