What is Peer Instruction?
Peer Instruction is research-based teaching method that leverages the power of social interaction to drive learning. In an ideal implementation of Peer Instruction, students get first exposure to content and complete an assessment of their content understanding before coming to class. In this way, Peer Instruction is a flipped learning approach. Instructors review student feedback and spend class time eliciting, confronting and resolving students’ misconceptions and difficulties. This is done by starting out with a series of mini lectures to further explain content students found difficult, followed by ConcepTests. A ConceptTest is a short conceptual question designed to give students frequent opportunities to apply their learning. Students first respond to ConcepTests individually, then discuss their responses with their peers and instructors, and then respond again. The cycle completes with a final resolution activity to clarify any incorrect responses through class discussion that can be implemented in a number of ways. The recommend sequence is depicted in the image to the right.
Peer Instruction Impelmented FAQs
1. Can I cover all the material if I teach with Peer Instruction?
If you assign the material you want your students to learn as reading or in a lecture video to be completed before class, you don’t have to cover everything in class. Simply focus class time on the key points and make sure you tell your students that the pre-class assignments, not the lectures, determine the coverage for the course. In the final analysis, coverage is determined by what they learn from all the elements in the course, not just what is discussed in class. Our favorite method for covering content out-of-class is Just-in-Time Teaching. Read more about it here.
2. Is it more work to prepare for an interactive course?
With Peer Instruction, as with lecturing, the first time through there is a lot more preparation with either technique. Then, subsequent times through, there’s less preparation with either technique. We just don’t think there’s a difference in the quantity, it’s just the character of the preparation is different. As one teacher using Peer Instruction stated: “Preparing for an active learning class isn’t more work or less work than preparing for a lecture class. It’s just really quite different to just make sure the material hangs together, makes sense. It’s truly wonderful but is about the same amount of work.” Moreover, by having students complete content coverage outside of class, you actually free up class time to engage them in deeper learning and application activities. At the end of the day, all good teaching takes time an energy.
3. How do I motivate my students to do their reading?
Research shows that reading assignments work well at a broad range of institutions and in a variety of disciplines. It is important to explain to your students that reading before class does not take more time than reading after class. We use Just-in-Time Teaching to motivate our students. Also, be sure to assign reading consistently. Tailor your lectures to those who have done the reading, not to those who haven’t. Read more about motivating your students to do their reading here.
4. How do I motivate my students to participate in class?
Because these interactive techniques may be new to many students, it is important to motivate them to participate in Peer Instruction from the very beginning of the course. Encourage your students to participate in interactive learning by explaining the method at the beginning of the course, by using the feedback to the reading assignments to plan your class time, and by making sure that your exams reflect the type of questions you ask in class. Also, during the peer discussion phase of Peer Instruction, make sure you direct students to discuss their answers with someone who has a different answer. This helps moves students into richer conversations about their reasoning and can facilitate resolution of dissonance.
5. What makes an effective ConcepTest?
The trick in designing ConcepTests is to think of them like designing your learning goals for a lesson, or for the chapter that your students are reading. It is key to decide what are the ideas and understandings that you really want students to get out of that material. Then, go through and ask yourself questions that will reveal the kinds of uncertainties, confusion, or misunderstandings students might have about that material. If you are using multiple choice, have at least two of the choices in the questions serve as ones that students might at their level might plausibly think are correct. For a ConcepTest to be effective it must address your students’ misconceptions. It should also challenge them appropriately by being neither too easy, nor too hard, that is, somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of the students should answer it correctly before discussion. Read more about how to write effective questions here.
6. How do I manage students in a Peer Instruction Class?
Most instructors who use Peer Instruction report that they have no problems managing their students. To get peer discussions going, make sure you engage the students at the right level, so they can learn from each other. To get their attention back after discussion, use a microphone or some signal.