Peer Instruction

Peer Instruction ProcessGateway courses are foundational, high-enrollment courses that typically have higher rates of D, F, and W (withdrawal) grades, such as calculus, physics, and required engineering courses like statics, solids, and dynamics.  Here at Embry-Riddle, some refer to them as “killer” courses or “the gauntlet.”  There are several evidence-based teaching strategies that can be used to reduce DFW rates and increase learning, retention, and student motivation, without sacrificing academic standards.  One of these strategies which has become widely adopted across numerous other universities is Peer Instruction.  Below is a short video introduction to Peer Instruction, along with resources and tips for implementing it in various gateway courses.

What is Peer Instruction?

See the short video below for a quick introduction and overview of peer instruction.  The flow chart above is a basic diagram of the process, but see this handout and image for a more detailed picture.

See also:

Why Peer Instruction?

Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard, developed the Peer Instruction technique in the 1990s.  In this video, he explains how it came about:

See also: Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to Science Education? by Carl Wieman

What Do Students and Faculty Think About Peer Instruction?

In this short video, some students from Stetson University share their thoughts on Peer Instruction:

What do faculty think about Peer Instruction?  See the article Faculty Perspectives On Using Peer Instruction: A National Study (pdf), which notes essential features and challenges in implementing the technique.

Does Peer Instruction Really Work?  The Research

See the discipline-specific sections at the bottom for research on using Peer Instruction in various courses. Here are some highlighted articles:

How Do I Implement Peer Instruction?

In this video, Eric Mazur demonstrates Peer Instruction in an actual classroom.  The majority of the video is students discussing the question he poses.  Below the video are some guides on getting started with Peer Instruction in your own classroom.

Designing Effective Questions

One of the key elements to effective Peer Instruction is designing good questions that challenge students and stimulate discussion.  This one minute video, and the other videos below it, illustrate a contrasting case between a “standard” question and a ConcepTest question that provokes discussion and conceptual learning.  Developing good questions is very difficult to do and takes a lot of time and trial and error.  Luckily, there are already thousands of good questions to use out there for calculus, physics, and other topics.  Links to those question databases are listed in the discipline-specific sections at the bottom of this post.

Using Classroom Response Systems

Classroom response systems (and “clickers”) are tools that allow you to pose a question to students, and they can each respond using their cell phone, laptop, or else a dedicated “clicker” device.  You can instantly see their responses on your computer.

Facilitating Discussion & Collaboration during Peer Instruction

Framing Peer Instruction at the Beginning of a Course

It is essential that you explain to your students why you are using Peer Instruction.  Otherwise, they may be confused by it, and they may also complain.

  • Framing the Interactive Engagement Classroom – “This page contains a set of instructor-written materials from a variety of disciplines for generating student buy-in to innovative classroom techniques.”
  • Example videos and slides for introducing peer instruction
    • Here is an example video and slides used for introducing computer science students to Peer Instruction, as well as the”Reminding Them Why PI is Good” slides on this page.

“Peerify” Your Exams and Worksheets

If you’re interested in taking Peer Instruction to another level, you can even essentially convert your exams and worksheets into a Peer Instruction format with Two Stage Exams and other techniques that help students learn more in your course. (and no, “peerify” is not a real word :))

Common Challenges & Frequently Asked Questions with Peer Instruction

Assessing Learning and Attitudes in Gateway Courses

To see the benefits of Peer Instruction and to see how you can improve your course, you can assess student learning and motivation at the beginning and end of your course (pre and post).  In the research articles mentioned above,  concept inventories, attitude surveys and other sources of evidence were used to measure the impact of Peer Instruction.

Peer Instruction Resources by Discipline

Physics

Calculus

Precalculus

Computer Science

Other Disciplines

  • The bottom half of this Peer Instruction Resources page has links to other places to find peer instruction questions.
  • See the departments section of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative site for Peer Instruction resource in other disciplines
  • The Peer Instruction Network allows you to connect with other instructors using Peer Instruction around the world.  See also their blog.

 

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