What is it?

Peer instruction (PI) is an active learning strategy developed at Harvard by Eric Mazur and one of the most widely adopted at the post-secondary level. It encourages students to verbalize their opposing understandings, actively listen to their peers, and critically compare and contrast their explanations with those of others. PI is similar to think-pair-share.

In PI, students are presented with multiple-choice questions testing their conceptual understanding. They select an answer and communicate their choice (i.e., vote). This can involve any of the following tools: response device (often referred to as clickers), flash cards, or discreet hand signals. The tabulated ...

Read More +

Peer instruction (PI) is an active learning strategy developed at Harvard by Eric Mazur and one of the most widely adopted at the post-secondary level. It encourages students to verbalize their opposing understandings, actively listen to their peers, and critically compare and contrast their explanations with those of others. PI is similar to think-pair-share.

In PI, students are presented with multiple-choice questions testing their conceptual understanding. They select an answer and communicate their choice (i.e., vote). This can involve any of the following tools: response device (often referred to as clickers), flash cards, or discreet hand signals. The tabulated responses enable the instructor to determine the next pedagogical move in real-time (i.e., in accordance to their student understanding). If a significant proportion of students select an incorrect response, they are given the opportunity to debate/discuss their answers with a peer(s) before revoting. Following the second vote, the instructor presents the correct response and makes any necessary clarifications.

PI supports conceptual learning. Often, students who come to the wrong conclusion in the first vote, are able to answer the question correctly on the second vote (see Figure 1) through this process of discussion and debate with peers.

Essential features for successful implementation of this strategy:
(1) Peer discussion: Providing time for peer-to-peer discussion. This discussion is most effective when peers with different answers (i.e., views, understanding, etc.) talk and explain to each other.
(2) Conceptual questions: Selecting multiple-choice questions that tap into students' understanding of concepts that are often misunderstood initially (i.e., student's prior knowledge may be erroneous or may not be consistent with the manner in which a particular discipline understands the concept).

Read Less -

When to use it?

Context & Requirements

Level
All levels
Discipline
All disciplines
Class size
All class sizes
Classroom settings
No specific classroom settings required
Technological requirements
A response device (e.g., clickers) or a response software (e.g., Socratic) to facilitate in-class vote tallying. In a MOOC setting, DALITE can be employed.

Skills Promoted

  • Communication
  • Conceptual reasoning
  • Evaluative reasoning
  • Metacognition

Who’s using it?

SALTISE community members who use this strategy and are willing to share advice and/or resources.

Level University
Institution McGill University
Discipline Engineering
Instructor Marta Cerruti
Class size 100
Classroom setting Traditional Classroom
Resources used View More
Level University
Institution McGill University
Discipline Engineering - Ethics
Instructor Lawrence R. Chen
Class size 200
Classroom setting Traditional Classroom
Resources used View More
Level University
Institution McGill University
Discipline Engineering
Instructor Lawrence R. Chen
Class size 200
Classroom setting Traditional Classroom
Resources used View More
Level University
Institution University of Guelph
Discipline Social Sciences
Instructor Rachael Marshall
Class size 20-40
Classroom setting Traditional Classroom
Resources used View More
Level University
Institution McGill University
Discipline Engineering
Instructor Chris Moraes
Class size 75-95
Classroom setting Traditional Classroom
Resources used View More
Level University
Institution McGill University
Discipline Physics
Instructor Kenneth Ragan
Class size 450
Classroom setting Lecture hall (auditorium)
Resources used View More
Level College
Institution Marianopolis College
Discipline Physics
Instructor
Class size 30-40
Classroom setting Classroom with whiteboards
Resources used View More

Why use it?

Overall, PI allows students to look at the problem in a different light through critical evaluation of peer discussions. When students actively listen to one another during PI, there is always clear motion towards the right answer. Consider the PI example provided in Figure 1a below. While only approximately 32% of students were able to come to the correct answer on their own (Figure 1b), following the PI process, 78% of students (Figure 1c) came to the correct conclusion.


One of the powerful aspects of PI is that students realize that some problems are not as easy as they originally thought. After the students vote on the problem, there is a moment of silence before the results of the vote are presented. Prior to seeing these results, students collectively feel they aced the problem. Nonetheless, the voting ...

Read More +

Overall, PI allows students to look at the problem in a different light through critical evaluation of peer discussions. When students actively listen to one another during PI, there is always clear motion towards the right answer. Consider the PI example provided in Figure 1a below. While only approximately 32% of students were able to come to the correct answer on their own (Figure 1b), following the PI process, 78% of students (Figure 1c) came to the correct conclusion.


One of the powerful aspects of PI is that students realize that some problems are not as easy as they originally thought. After the students vote on the problem, there is a moment of silence before the results of the vote are presented. Prior to seeing these results, students collectively feel they aced the problem. Nonetheless, the voting often exhibits a three way split between possible answers. Consequently at least two-thirds of the students wind up realizing ‘maybe the problem is not as obvious as I thought’. Students must then ask themselves where they went wrong. The instructor can sense them becoming engaged through discussion. When students vote for the second time, there is dead silence in the room as they are wondering how everyone did and if they are moving towards the right solution. This is what makes PI an effective strategy.

I am increasingly encouraging my students to form PI-based study groups outside the classroom.

(Ken Ragan, McGill University)

Read Less -

As with all strategies, PI only goes so far. An instructor will rarely observe over 80% of students answering a conceptual question correctly, even with the PI process. In Figure 1, we observe that 32 percent of students still struggled with the sample question presented following PI. When student responses are spread, the instructor can sense that some students are going down the wrong path collectively (especially when students have deeply held misconceptions). Furthermore, no amount of instruction among peers will bring them to the correct answer. Thus, following the PI process, the instructor must intervene and guide the discussion in the right ...

Read More +

As with all strategies, PI only goes so far. An instructor will rarely observe over 80% of students answering a conceptual question correctly, even with the PI process. In Figure 1, we observe that 32 percent of students still struggled with the sample question presented following PI. When student responses are spread, the instructor can sense that some students are going down the wrong path collectively (especially when students have deeply held misconceptions). Furthermore, no amount of instruction among peers will bring them to the correct answer. Thus, following the PI process, the instructor must intervene and guide the discussion in the right direction, allowing students to examine the problem in a different way. This is where a different strategy may be needed.

(Ken Ragan, McGill University)

Read Less -

Ready to try it out?

This version of Peer Instruction (PI) is a six step instructional process. Other iterations of this process are possible depending on the pedagogical needs.

STEP 1: Instructor provides students with content (e.g., mini-lecture, pre-class reading).

STEP 2: Instructor prepares multiple choice questions/problems.

BEST PRACTICES NOTE: Concept-based questions are the most effective to promote student debate and discussion of understanding).

STEP 3: Individually, students answer the question and enter their vote using a polling method or device (e.g., clickers or phone app).

BEST PRACTICES NOTE: maintain anonymity of choice even when polling does not use technology See document for options.

IF less than 35% answer correctly:

STEP 4 : Instructor revisits the concepts required to answer the question.

IF between 35-70% answer correctly:

STEP 5: Students, in pairs or small groups, discuss their answers and explain their reasoning.

BEST PRACTICES NOTE: pairs or groups should consist of individuals holding different opinions, or playing the skeptic and arguing for an alternative answer.

STEP 6: Individually, students vote again and select answer based on discussion – they can either keep their original answer or change.

IF more than 70% answer correctly:

STEP 7: Instructor briefly reviews the concepts.

STEP 8: Instructor begins presenting material relating to the next topic.

Download Flowchart

Helpful resources

Tech Tools

ForClass

Learning Catalytics

Poll everywhere

Socrative

Today's Meet

Top Hat

TurningPoint

References

Crouch, C. H. and Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics..

Henderson, C. (2008). Promoting instructional change in new faculty: An evaluation of the physics and astronomy new faculty workshop. American Journal of Physics..

Nathaniel Lasry (2008). Une mise en œuvre au cégep de la méthode d’apprentissage par les pairs de Harvard. Pédagogie Collégiale..

Nicol, D. J. and Boyle, J. T. (2003). Peer instruction versus class-wide discussion in large classes: A comparison of two interaction methods in the wired classroom. Studies in Higher Education..

Video

Eric Mazur – Peer Instruction – Dean and Professor of  Applied Physics, Harvard University, and Vice-President of the Optical Society

TO LEARN MORE

For more resources go to Articles and Books