Peer Instruction

source: Wikipedia, Mazur Group

Peer instruction is an evidence-based, interactive teaching method developed by Harvard Professor Eric Mazur in the early 1990s.  Originally used to improve learning in introductory undergraduate physics classes at Harvard University, peer instruction is used in various disciplines and institutions around the globe.  It is a student-centered approach that involves flipping the traditional classroom by moving information transfer out and moving information assimilation, or application of learning, into the classroom.

One problem with conventional teaching lies in the presentation of the material. Frequently, it 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. Lectures are interspersed with conceptual questions, called ConcepTests, designed to expose common difficulties in understanding the material. The students are given one to two minutes to think about the question and formulate their own answers; they then spend two to three minutes discussing their answers in groups of three to four, attempting to reach consensus on the correct answer. 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.

Peer Instruction is easy to implement in almost any subject and class. It doesn’t require retooling of entire courses or curricula, or significant expenditures of time or money. All that is required is a collection of ConcepTests (available on Project Galileo) and a willingness to spend some of class time on student discussion.

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