Why use Peer Instruction?
The advantages of these interactive lectures over the traditional format are many and varied:
- The questions provide the lecturer with instant feedback about how well students have understood the material, allowing him or her to adjust the pace and content of their teaching accordingly.
- The questions provide valuable feedback to the student on how well they have actually understood the material and how they are progressing relative to the rest of the class.
- The "convince-your-neighbour' sessions allow for valuable peer interaction between students. This promotes active engagement: students have to do more than passively assimilate material, they must think about it and try to explain it to someone else.
- The convergence on the correct answer following these student-student discussions suggests that brief one to one discussion is an invaluable learning tool. Students who have understood the topic are able to explain it effectively to students who have not, perhaps at times more effectively than the lecturer.
- The anonymous nature of the voting system encourages participation by not just some, but all students. This is most apparent when an electronic response system is used, but also holds to a lesser extent when flashcards are used, especially in very large lectures. This makes it much easier for students who would not normally participate by publicly answering questions to engage with the material being taught.
- The monotony of the traditional lecture is avoided by breaking up the lecture into short segments interspersed with a sequence of questions in which students must actively engage with the material. In this way, student concentration is increased.
By now a fairly substantial body of research exists on the effectiveness of Peer Instruction. Studies on the use of PI in physics and other science subjects have consistently shown impressive gains in conceptual understanding and problem solving. Student surveys show that student satisfaction is also increases. (See the References section for further details).
Our own research on the use of PI in philosophy, logic and critical thinking courses suggests that the method can also be used in these disciplines, to great effect. The response from students to the use of the method in philosophy, critical thinking and logic lectures has been overwhelmingly positive. Many students commented on the positive effects of the method on attention, the provision of feedback and improved understanding.
A study carried out in 2006 also measured a significant improvement in critical thinking skills over the course of a single semester; a gain of 0.4 standard deviations, or 15 percentile points. See the Evaluations section for more details.