Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Peer instruction: why and how?

Last monday we discussed student-centered learning, or more specifically peer instruction. We started by watching part of a talk by Eric Mazur (embedded below) recounting how he got "converted" to peer instruction, providing some data on how well it worked in his physics class, and showing an example of peer instruction activity. I'd encourage you to watch it all, it's informative and entertaining. Before meeting, we read a paper by Felder and Brent addressing the issue from another angle: what are the obstacles to implementing peer instruction (and some solutions)?

We divided into small groups and allowed ourselves to explore the topic from the angle that most interested us. Some points discussed include:
  • logistical issues: high noise background can leave out some students; having the right room to break into small groups helps (but it can work in "theater" rooms too)
  • students dislike the new method (at least at first): you can explain what you are doing and why it works, be clear on expectations, reassure them that with "unconventional" methods they'll be able to do good in conventional exams;
  • free-riders in group work: some use a peer evaluation form, but it doesn't seem to work well;
  • assigning readings before class meetings: can enforce via quiz, short writing in class, having questions about the reading in exams. It is more productive to use class time to discuss (e.g. you don't read Shakespeare in class)
  • teacher's fears: do I lose control? do I need to have several back-up plans depending on how the class session goes? what if students don't like it and give me poor evaluations?
It's a very broad subject, we'll probably discuss some aspects of it in the future! also check out other resources on this topic from a previous GTC post.

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