By the end of this module, you will be able to:
- Identify the characteristics and pedagogical implications of peer instruction,
- Design instructional events following the guidelines of peer instruction,
- Use strategies to engage students in a task,
- Evaluate the design of the task in order to improve it if found necessary.
Peer instruction is a pedagogical classroom practice in which students work in teams to discuss challenging questions posed by the instructor (Simon & Cutts, 2012a). Originally created by Eric Mazur to help students “think like a physicist”. It is designed to support the development of deep understanding through discussions based on a key problem with no right or wrong answers. The ‘right’ answer is apparent once the students use the appropriate core concepts in their attempts to articulate their understanding of the problem and the solution to it (Simon & Cutts, 2012b).
Let’s see what Eric Mazur has to say about Peer Instruction:
Peer instruction has a strong influence on affective emotions towards the topic, learners often feel proud of their contributions, it promotes social cohesion, and improved relations with the lecturer. The requirement to work in groups increases the importance of preparation and attendance. Students report deep understanding, explicitly referring to critical thinking and the development of reasoning skills (Simon et al., 2013).
This is an instructional approach best suited for a blended learning context. The following are guidelines to help you design your lectures:
- Ask students to prepare for the lecture by reading an article, section of the book, or watching a video.
- Prepare a pre-lecture quiz for students to complete. Have students take the quiz prior to your lecture.
- Organise students into fixed teams of three to five students.
- To begin the lecture, students are prompted to silently consider a question and voting on an answer using a clicker device. Getting students to commit to an individual answer first, not only discourages “free riding”, it also prepares the brain to put together a process for determining a response.
- Direct students to discuss in their teams preferably without showing the results of the individual vote.
- After the discussion, ask learners to vote again.
- Show the results of the votes.
- Lecture. At this point, provide a model to think about or analyse the question. A suggestion is to talk about the reasons behind wrong answers as a way to help students consolidate their learning.
It is critical to develop a question that really engages students in deep and meaningful discussion. This method allows you to dynamically adjust class content based on students’ performance. The suggestions is to use a scaffold to support students in experimenting with the use of new vocabulary to deepen their understanding. Modelling productive discussion through discourse methods may come in handy.
Now, you can work on designing your tasks, resources and support. Click on the following links to access guides to support your design process:
- Simon, B., & Cutts, Q. (2012a). How to implement a peer instruction-designed CS principles course. ACM Inroads, 3(2), 23.
- Simon, B., & Cutts, Q. (2012b). Peer Instruction: A Teaching Method to Foster Deep Understanding. Communications of the ACM, 55(2), 27-29. doi:10.1145/2076450.2076459
- Simon, B., Esper, S., Porter, L., & Cutts, Q. (2013). Student experience in a student-centred peer instruction classroom. International Computing Education Research Workshop, 129