Techniques for Peer Instruction

In this article, Stephanie Chasteen reviews the results on the effective use of peer instruction. Specifically, she first lists the instruction cycle for incorporating peer instruction in the classroom and then answers seven key questions about peer instruction:

1. Does it matter if students vote/think individually first?

2. Does it matter if you show students the histogram (after the first vote)?

3. When should you have students discuss the question?

4. Does peer discussion matter?

5. How much time should be given for voting?

6. How much does the instructor’s cues and explanation matter?

7. Does grading matter?

At last, she provides a flow chart as a guidance on how to use peer instruction for instructors.

This is the last entry of the semester, we will be back this summer with more interesting articles on teaching and learning. Stay tuned!

Peer instruction

This week is an interesting video from Dr Eric Mazur, professor of Physics in Harvard. In this video, Dr Mazur explains how he came to abandon lecturing for peer instruction. Although he thought he was doing an excellent job of teaching by looking at student evaluations, he realized that students actually understood little of the physics principles he was teaching. Trying to explain them again to students was fruitless. In a desperate effort, he told students to discuss those concepts among themselves. What he found was that students were better prepared to teach peers complex ideas since they had only just mastered them. He thus now only teaches through peer instruction, guiding students into learning.

Group Projects and Collaboration

Back from Spring Break, this week’s piece is an interview between Brian Mathews and his colleague Tom Ewing. Their discussion addresses group work and creating environment for collaborative learning in the classroom. Tom and Brian conclude on possible reasons why students struggle with group assignments.

Most students (particularly in History) are accustomed to working alone: grades are an individual effort.


Students are comfortable with writing papers—designing something was a completely different experience.


There is a sense of imbalance—one person ends up doing most of the work.


There is fear of showing what you don’t know.


Students are very comfortable with study groups but working together on a graded assignment introduced different dynamics. Perhaps there is some trust building (and maturity) that they have not developed yet?

Tom then used those lessons to stimulate sense of partnership by gathering a group of undergraduate students working on a research topic and observed positive group dynamic from the research outcome. Find out the rest in the article.

Our First Friday Roundtable titled “Motivating Academic Honesty. Should we use software? What are various strategies to use to reduce dishonesty?” will take place next week, April 15th, Gore 208. Register here.

Designing Group Projects

This week, an article by Meg Bernhard on designing group projects offers these very insightful tips. She writes,

Instructors widely accept the benefits of assigning group work. Teamwork gives students a chance to hear multiple perspectives, and it can mirror real-world jobs, which employers like.


But recent research shows that if groups and assignments are structured hastily, they can be counterproductive.

Some of our takeaways from the article:

  • Intentionally constructing the group and understanding the learning tasks is necessary to reap the benefits.
  • Whenever possible, group composition should make sure there are no lone, marginalized students. Women in engineering groups or racial minority students who serve in groups as the “only” one often operate on the fringes of group projects due to stereotypes that shape the thinking of group members.
  • Set clear expectations for the kinds and quality of interactions that should ensue and assess them.
  • Particular disciplines lend themselves to group process more than others. Engineering, for example, requires more group-think than history, which usually entails individual research and analysis.