Peer Instruction FAQs

How does Peer Instruction help students learn from their peers?

Peer instruction helps students learn by encouraging them to articulate their thinking. The discussion process helps both the stronger and the weaker students. Research has shown that Peer Instruction yields significant gains in conceptual understanding, problem solving skills, and long-term retention.

Is Peer Instruction and Learning Catalytics only for STEM disciplines?

No — Peer Instruction and Learning Catalytics can be used in a wide range of disciplines, from physics to philosophy. Learning Catalytics provides over a dozen different question types, from tasks where students highlight a passage (e.g., for a literature or poetry class) to tasks where students sketch a graph (e.g., for a math or science class) to tasks where students enter text and a word cloud is created dynamically (e.g., for a social science or humanities class). Not all question types have right and wrong answers, and some are designed to help you collect information from students that can be used to jump-start a class discussion or debate.

Is Peer Instruction more effective than the traditional lecture method?

Research done at a variety of institutions confirms that Peer Instruction is significantly more effective than the traditional lecture method. To convince yourself and your colleagues, you may also want to collect and compare data obtained before and after implementing Peer Instruction.

How can I make sure that students have productive discussions in class?

Learning Catalytics can automatically pair (or form larger groups of) students based on their responses. Before the semester starts, you use a user-friendly graphical tool to map out the classroom seating arrangement, and when students arrive in class each day they use any web-enabled device to indicate what seat they are sitting in. During class, you can — with only a few clicks — have Learning Catalytics automatically assign students to groups and send a message to each student’s device telling them whom to talk to (e.g., “turn to your left and talk to Brian Lukoff”). Students are only grouped when they are sitting near each other, so no time is wasted as students find their partners.

Will Peer Instruction work in my institution?

A recent survey has shown that the success of Peer Instruction lies in its adaptability to a broad range of institutions and a wide range of disciplines. To make it succeed at your institution be sure to set realistic goals for your students and adjust the level of the questions to their capability.

Will students taught using Peer Instruction perform well on traditional assessments of quantitative problem solving?

To determine how well students who are taught with Peer Instruction learn quantitative problem solving skills, we examined scores from final exams, which consisted entirely of quantitative problems. First, we looked at the scores from an introductory physics course taught using traditional methods, and compared them to the scores from the same exam given to an introductory physics course that used Peer Instruction. The students taught using Peer Instruction outperformed students taught using traditional methods in their ability to solve quantitative problems.

What the data shows is that better conceptual understanding leads to better quantitative problem solving skills, even if there is less emphasis on problem solving in lecture. Besides, studies have conclusively shown that conceptual understanding is retained much better than problem solving skills. To make sure your students have adequate opportunity to develop quantitative problem solving skills, you should assign quantitative homework problems and provide assistance for them outside class. To make sure the students see the connection between the different types of problems, it is a good idea to use a mixture of conceptual and quantitative problems on exams.