Peer instruction is a technique of asking students to discuss a question with their neighbors, voting, and then holding a whole class discussion of the answers. Visit the Physics Education Research User’s Guide here to see more about Peer Instruction.
A lot of research has shown that users of peer instruction often don’t use it in the way that has been shown to improve student learning; and many get frustrated and drop the technique. And no wonder. Most are isolated, without contact with experienced users. Support and mentorship is critical to learning any new teaching technique. And while peer instruction seems deceptively simple, I think this is sometimes a downfall; instructors can (and do) define it to be whatever they think it should be, whereas there are really a lot of little things that go into making it a successful learning experience for students.
But that might be changing. One of the inventors of Peer Instruction, Eric Mazur, has now launched a new Peer Instruction Network, at www.peerinstruction.net. The site is still being populated and reaching full functionality, but already has more than 2000 registrants! They have users in a variety of disciplines, including physics, law, biology, chemistry, psychology, mathematics, engineering, astronomy, information systems, computer science, measurement, project management, pharmacy, english, statistics, real estate, sociology, nursing, political science, theology, history, art, and foreign languages. They’re building out the full site and will be including the ability to connect with users in a school or discipline.
So, if you’re using Peer Instruction, or are curious about it, consider signing up for the network.
Here is the text from a press release released by Harvard on the new network:
The Peer Instruction Network, a new global social site for interactive teaching, launches at Harvard
CONTACT: Michael Rutter, (617) 496-3815
Cambridge, Mass. – February 8, 2012 – Researchers at Harvard University have launched the Peer Instruction (PI) Network (www.peerinstruction.net), a new global social network for users of interactive teaching methods.
PI, developed by Eric Mazur, Area Dean for Applied Physics and Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), is an innovative evidence-based pedagogy designed to improve student engagement and success.
Mazur, famous for his talk titled “Confessions of a Converted Lecturer,” developed the method after realizing in the 1990s that his physics lectures at Harvard, while popular, were not helping students to master the basic concepts.
The PI technique relies on the power of the “flipped classroom.” Information transfer (i.e., a teacher transferring knowledge to students) takes place in advance, typically through online lectures. In short, students study before rather than after class.
As a result, the classroom becomes a place for active learning, questions, and discussion. Instructors spend their time addressing students’ difficulties rather than lecturing.
While originally developed for Mazur’s introductory physics courses, PI is now used across multiple disciplines, from the sciences to the humanities.
The Peer Instruction Network will serve as a hub for educators around the world to connect and share their PI experiences, submit questions, and engage with other PI users.
“In the first phase of community building we are aiming to register current and potential users of Peer Instruction,” said Julie Schell, Co-Founder of the Peer Instruction Network and a senior education postdoctoral fellow in the Mazur Group at SEAS.
“So far, the response has been remarkable,” Schell said. “More than 1,900 educators from elementary schools to research universities worldwide, including those in Ethiopia, Israel, Singapore, Vietnam, Finland, Germany, Greece, South Africa, and places like South Dakota, New York City, New Orleans and Oklahoma, have joined the Network.”
Testimonials from network registrants suggest why PI is rapidly becoming a pedagogy of choice: It works.
A science professor wrote on the site: “I use the technique so extensively that I’ve moved my lectures from ‘live’ to video podcasts that the students view before coming to class. In-class ‘lecture’ time is now devoted to Peer Instruction, worksheets, and physics demonstrations. Works great!”
At Harvard, Mazur and his team have long been encouraging other faculty to experiment with Peer Instruction in their own courses. With support from Cherry A. Murray, Dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), he has even used it to better engage faculty at faculty meetings and retreats.
“We are amazed by the response to the initial launch of the Peer Instruction Network,” said Mazur. “By connecting people who use interactive teaching methods, we hope to cultivate a community of practice that will have a global effect on educational change.”