Peer Instruction

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Peer instruction is a student centered approach that involves students in their own learning and incorporates conceptual discussions and enhanced interaction in classrooms.

As developed by Professor Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University, students are asked questions between interspersed lectures to challenge and develop their knowledge. "This process forces the students to think through the arguments being developed, and enables them (as well as the instructor) to assess their understanding of the concepts even before they leave the classroom." In “Confessions of a converted lecturer”, Mazur, notes that with conventional teaching, the material frequently "comes straight out of textbooks and/or lecture notes, giving students little incentive to attend class. That the traditional presentation is nearly always delivered as a monologue in front of a passive audience compounds the problem...It is even more difficult to provide adequate opportunity for students to critically think through the arguments being developed. Consequently, lectures simply reinforce students' feelings that the most important step in mastering the material is memorizing a zoo of apparently unrelated examples. In order to address these misconceptions about learning, we developed a method, Peer Instruction, which involves students in their own learning during lecture and focuses their attention on underlying concepts.

Peer Instruction has been shown to increase understanding for all students and to decrease the gender gap in Physics.

Model of PI.jpeg

Reducing the gender gap in the physics classroom, Mercedes Lorenzo, Catherine H. Crouch and Eric Mazur, Am. J. Phys., 74, 118-122 (2006).

  • We investigate if the gender gap in conceptual understanding in an introductory university physics course can be reduced by using interactive engagement methods that promote in-class interaction, reduce competition, foster collaboration, and emphasize conceptual understanding. To this end we analyzed data from the introductory calculus-based physics course for non- majors at Harvard University taught traditionally or using different degrees of interactive engagement. Our results show that teaching with certain interactive strategies not only yields significantly increased understanding for both males and females, but also reduces the gender gap. In the most interactively taught courses, the pre-instruction gender gap was gone by the end of the semester.

Research-Based Implementation of Peer Instruction: A Literature Review

  • Current instructional reforms in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses have focused on enhancing adoption of evidence-based instructional practices among STEM faculty members. These practices have been empirically demonstrated to enhance student learning and attitudes. However, research indicates that instructors often adapt rather than adopt practices, unknowingly compromising their effectiveness. Thus, there is a need to raise awareness of the research-based implementation of these practices, develop fidelity of implementation protocols to understand adaptations being made, and ultimately characterize the true impact of reform efforts based on these practices. Peer instruction (PI) is an example of an evidence-based instructional practice that consists of asking students conceptual questions during class time and collecting their answers via clickers or response cards. Extensive research has been conducted by physics and biology education researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of this practice and to better understand the intricacies of its implementation. PI has also been investigated in other disciplines, such as chemistry and computer science. This article reviews and summarizes these various bodies of research and provides instructors and researchers with a research-based model for the effective implementation of PI. Limitations of current studies and recommendations for future empirical inquiries are also provided.

Peer Instruction: Engaging Students One-on-One, All at Once, Catherine H. Crouch, Jessica Watkins, Adam P. Fagen, and Eric Mazur, in Reviews in Physics Education Research, Ed. E.F. Redish and P. Cooney, pp. 1-1 (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, MD, 2007).]

  • The chapter from Volume 1 of "Research-Based Reform of University Physics" presents the background, design, and impact of Peer Instruction. Peer Instruction is an instructional strategy for engaging students during class through a structured questioning process that involves every student. Here we describe Peer Instruction (hereafter PI) and report data from more than ten years of teaching with PI in the calculus- and algebra-based introductory physics courses for non-majors at Harvard University, where this method was developed. Our results indicate increased student mastery of both conceptual reasoning and quantitative problem solving upon implementing PI. Gains in student understanding are greatest when the PI questioning strategy is accompanied by other strategies that increase student engagement, so that every element of the course serves to involve students actively. We also provide data on gains in student understanding and information about implementation obtained from a survey of almost four hundred instructors using PI at other institutions. We find that most of these instructors have had success using PI, and that their students understand basic mechanics concepts at the level characteristic of courses taught with interactive engagement methods. Finally, we provide a sample set of materials for teaching a class with PI, and provide information on the extensive resources available for teaching with PI.

Peer Instruction: Ten Years of Experience and Results, Catherine H. Crouch and Eric Mazur, Am. J. Phys., 69, 970-977 (2001).]

  • We report data from ten years of teaching with Peer Instruction (PI) in the calculus- and algebra-based introductory physics courses for non-majors; our results indicate increased student mastery of both conceptual reasoning and quantitative problem solving upon implementing PI. We also discuss ways we have improved our implementation of PI since introducing it in 1991. Most notably, we have replaced in-class reading quizzes with pre-class written responses to the reading, introduced a research-based mechanics textbook for portions of the course, and incorporated cooperative learning into the discussion sections as well as the lectures. These improvements are intended to help students learn more from pre-class reading and to increase student engagement in the discussion sections, and are accompanied by further increases in student understanding.