Gateway 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.
- Peer Instruction 101: What is Peer Instruction? also has a short video. This is a post on Turn To Your Neighbor, the Peer Instruction blog.
- Ready, Set, React! Getting the most out of peer instruction using clickers – pdf flowchart of the peer instruction process.
- Essential Features of Peer Instruction – a list of minimal and ideal features of implementing peer instruction, based on surveys of faculty
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:
- UPDATE 2015: new article: Research-Based Implementation of Peer Instruction:
A Literature Review
- Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results (pdf) and other research articles by Eric Mazur and his group
- Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class (full text pdf) and other studies by Carl Wieman’s Science Education Initiative
- Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions (pdf) as well as a poster version
- Combining Peer Discussion with Instructor Explanation Increases Student Learning from In-Class Concept Questions
- Halving Fail Rates Using Peer Instruction: A Study of Four Computer Science Courses (pdf) and other research articles at the Peer Instruction for Computer Science site.
- Peer Instruction: Do Students Really Learn from Peer Discussion in Computing?
- Teaching methods comparison in a large calculus class (full text pdf and slides)
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.
- Other videos of Peer Instruction in action:
- How do I get started with Peer Instruction? Part 1 from the Peer Instruction blog
- General PI Tips: Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Started from the PeerInstruction4CS project
- Peer Instruction Implementation Guide from the PER User’s Guide
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.
- More videos:
- Peer Instruction Question: Calculus – standard vs. better question for discussion and conceptual learning
- Creating a Good Clicker Question for a Flipped Classroom – computer science contrasting case
- Pre Calculus Peer Instruction Questions and Calculus Peer Instruction Questions – recorded lectures
- Writing Good Peer Instruction Questions – slides from a presentation by Peter Newbury.
- You can use this question worksheet (pdf) to write out a question.
- More articles on writing good questions:
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.
- See the earlier post Teaching with Classroom Response Systems for some pedagogical and technological tips.
- Some folks at Embry-Riddle use Poll Everywhere, a web-based classroom response system, and there are several other excellent systems out there like Socrative, Learning Catalytics, and Turning Technologies. Even having students hold up colored or printed flashcards can be effective.
- See the Poll Everywhere User Guide and Tour, and learn how to insert math equations into your poll
- Install the PollEV Presenter software if you want to integrate Poll Everywhere with PowerPoint
- You can tell your students to install the Poll Everywhere app on their iPhone or Android phone instead of going to the web link if they like.
- The Clicker Resources page has several useful resources from the Science Education Initiative at UBC & Colorado, including:
- Classroom Response Systems (“Clickers”) information from Vanderbilt
- Tips on Effectively Using Classroom Response Systems and Clickers
- If you prefer not to use an online classroom response system, you can use printed ABCD voting cards, such as this example (pdf). Have students fold the paper to show their answer, and hold it against their chest when responding so other students can’t see (and potentially change their answer).
Facilitating Discussion & Collaboration during Peer Instruction
- Facilitating Peer Instruction (pdf) – a short handout
- Ready, Set, React! Getting the most out of peer instruction using clickers – pdf flowchart of the peer instruction process once a question has been asked
- Basic instructor habits to keep students engaged (pdf)
- “Because the research tells me so”: Best practices in facilitating peer instruction
- Facilitating group work:
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.
- What is Peer Instruction? – video for a Materials Science course
“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 :))
- Two Stage Exam (pdf) – In a two stage exam, students first complete an exam individually and turn it in, and then get into groups and go through the exam to learn from each other.
- Using worksheets twice – you can ask questions twice on worksheets, once at the beginning of class and once at the end, so that students (and you) can see what they have learned.
Common Challenges & Frequently Asked Questions with Peer Instruction
- What if my students complain about doing this?
- See the above section on framing Peer Instruction. It is essential to explain to students why you are using this technique.
- Make sure you are not using clickers or classroom response systems in ways that discourage learning. Don’t use clickers primarily just for attendance, and don’t grade clicker questions for correctness
- See also Practices that should be avoided when implementing active learning (pdf)
- What if my students aren’t engaged during Peer Instruction?
- Ask students to find someone near them with a different answer and convince one another about their answer.
- As the above section on Designing Effective Questions indicates, a good question makes all the difference in stimulating student discussion. It also helps to shoot for questions that aren’t too easy or too hard.
- See also the above sections on Framing Peer Instruction. Make sure you convey your expectations for the course, which includes discussing the questions. See the handout Facilitating Peer Instruction (pdf) for some guidance.
- Using a classroom response system or clickers helps monitor and encourage all students to participate, especially when their responses are anonymous.
- Consider the amount of time you spend lecturing during class. You can move some of your lectures online for students to view before class (see the JiTT and flipped class sections below). This allows the students to have more time to work on concepts they are struggling with.
- How can I cover all the material?
- Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT) – students do work and answer questions before class, which the instructor can use to tailor in-class activities.
- Flipping the Classroom – students do activities or work on homework problems in class, and lectures are moved online (video screencasts) for students to watch outside of class time.
- Flipping the Classroom in 60 Seconds (video)
- You can create video recordings using screencast tools like Screencast-o-Matic or Camtasia
- Example Courses:
- Some tips:
- How can I get student to do the work before coming to class?
- See How do I get my students to prepare before coming to a flipped class? from the Peer Instruction blog, which includes a short video.
- Frequently Asked Questions about Peer Instruction:
- The 6 most common questions about using Peer Instruction
- Clicker Q&A – some questions that faculty have asked about clickers and 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.
- Assessments That Support Student Learning (pdf)
- Ask someone to conduct a Midterm Student Feedback (MSF) survey of your students in the middle of your semester
- Concept Inventories
- Attitude Surveys
Peer Instruction Resources by Discipline
- Peer Instruction: Engaging Students One-on-One, All at Once
- Clicker Questions
- Clicker Questions
- The Flipped Precalculus Classroom
- Clicker Questions
- Peer Instruction for Computer Science has class materials, clicker questions, and research articles on using Peer Instruction in Computer Science courses
- Peer Instruction Materials for Computer Science– from the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative
- 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.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.