What is the Mazur Peer Instruction course?

[This blog post first appeared on the Audience Response System pilot project website.]

Eric Mazur, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University, developed some years ago what is now commonly known as Mazur’s Peer Instruction course, through administering ConcepTests.

Mazur’s Peer Instruction course, whilst not necessarily revolving around a method of teaching which involves the use of an ARS, is grounded in the psychology of how peers aid learning. The process “involves students in their own learning during lecture and focuses their attention on underlying concepts” [further information].

Mazur’s approach, grounded in his teaching of Mechanics, addressed a long researched principle weakness of his particular subject matter. By following a straightforward path, whereby students were encouraged to work individually and with peers to find a particular answer, students were assessed twice and given feedback n times in a given sequence.

Nicol and Boyle (2003) have written on the nature of Mazur’s peer instruction course versus discussion based activities in large classrooms. The concluded the the type of dialogue and discussion sequence that takes is vital in relation to the effect on students’ learning. Crouch and Mazur (2001) showed that after peer discussion, the number of students giving correct answers to a concept re-test (prior to any teacher feedback) was higher than first time around. They go on to say that peer discussion is critical to the success of peer instruction.

How might peer instruction influence the design of (my) ARS activities?
A number of initiatives involving both the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Office and the Students’ Union have focused on improving the amount of feedback that students receive during units of study. This might be audio and/or written feedback on coursework, or feedback to students’ within a face-to-face context. A range of tools available at the university to enable lecturers to support and enhance the learner experience using classroom feedback technologies, such as the ARS.

Mazur’s peer instruction sequence not only supports the process of giving feedback to students, but also encourages interaction between students within the lecture context, and reflection on the answers to given to multiple choice questions. In turn, this promotes the processes of active learning and engagement by students, and of making lectures more interactive.

An adaptation of Mazur’s peer instruction course has already been used by Prof. James Davenport from the Department of Computer Science, who has used the ConcepTests principle to assess students’ understanding of key Networking related concepts. Students were asked multiple-choice questions individually, and then following peer discussion, answer the question again as a group.


Individual responses


Group responses

As demonstrated by the two TurningPoint-based PowerPoint slides above, responses before and after peer discussion is different. The correct answer (D) appears with most votes on both occasions, but what the process allows the lecture to do is (1) identify through the first slide that more students (58%) chose the incorrect answer than the correct one, and (2) following group discussion, where presumably students’ may have had to convince each other of the correct answer, some misconceptions were addressed. Following the second round of votes, the lecturer gave feedback and explained why D was the correct answer and addressed any further misconceptions. Further (verbal) questions were taken from students were taken at this point too.

Where can I find out more?
There a number of sessions during Innovations in Learning and Teaching Week 2010 this week, which involve the Audience Response System (ARS). For example, one of last years’ successful Dragons Den projects, led by Alan Hayes from the Department of Computer Science, explored and evaluated the use of ARS in learning and teaching and will be discussed at the launch event today.

e-Learning Taster Session 2 on Thursday 25 February 2010 will focus on introducing ARS , gaining experience of using the technologies and thinking about how you might use them in your teaching. A further discussion of this blog post will take place then, and the presenters will be on hand to answer any questions about the the TurningPoint software and hardware, as well as the pedagogical influences on the design on ARS questions. To book a place on the session, please send an email to acdev@bath.ac.uk

Crouch, C.H. and Mazur, E. (2001), “Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results”, American Journal of Physics, vol.69, no. 9, pp.970-977 [pdf copy] [Empirical evidence of improved exam pass rates.]

Nicol, D.J. and Boyle, J.T (2003) Peer Instruction versus Class-wide Discussion in Large Classes: acomparison of two interaction methods in the wired classroom, Studies in Higher Education Volume 28, No. 4, October 2003 [pdf copy].

iMoot 2010 – A first look at Moodle 2.0

[This blog post first appeared as a news item on the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Office website.]

Between 4th and 7th February 2010, Nitin Parmar, Acting Moodle Operations Manager & Learning Technologist, in the e-Learning team attended the first ever worldwide MoodleMoot. In the past, localised Moots have been held in physical locations around the world – such as the UK-based ones that have been running over the last few years. The web based event, iMoot 2010, aimed to bring together a global audience of Moodle practitioners and administrators for the first time in one event.

Attending the web conference certainly posed challenges, given that it was not only based entirely online, but ran 24 hours a day and was aligned to Australian time! Moodle was initially developed in Perth, Western Australia and the Moodle Foundation, led by Lead Developer Martin Dougiamas, is still based there.

The buzz around the iMoot 2010 conference revolved around Moodle 2.0, which is to be released to the Moodle community in July 2010, and due to be implemented at the University of Bath during summer 2011. As the first major new release of the software since March 2008, a number of key areas of functionality have been improved or redesigned completely. Some key highlights of Moodle 2.0 include:

  • Core functionality – Much of the Moodle code has been refined for Moodle 2.0, which in turn should lead to service performance improvements. A new menu structure has been implemented to allowed for easier navigation through the interface, including a revamp of the Administration menu within Moodle courses. The new Repositories API allows for the easy importing of images from Flickr and resources from Google Docs.
  • Quiz 2.0 – A number of improvements have been made to the Quiz activity, where development has been led by the Open University. For example, quiz questions are now easier to manage through a redesigned interface, and improved quiz navigation aids students progressing through a quiz activty. Questions can now be flagged – students can mark a tricky question to go back to, or mark it as something that they want to ask the teacher about.
  • Workshop 2.0 – The process of leading and completing peer assessment-type activities – from both teacher and student perspectives – has been improved significantly. This is likely to become a key feature of Moodle 2.0.
  • Moodle Themes – The structure and design of themes – the look and feel of Moodle – has been rewritten for greater efficiency and flexibility.  Theme development for small screen, mobile devices is now much easier, and the Moodle Foundation will soon begin work on an iPhone application.

For a full list of the expected functionality for Moodle 2.0, visit the Moodle Roadmap at: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Roadmap

The Moodle Development Plan for 2010, released last month by the e-Learning team, encompasses consideration of Moodle 2.0 and some preliminary investigative work around this upgrade project beginning later on this calendar year.

If you would like to find out more, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the e-Learning team at e-learning@bath.ac.uk

iMoot 2010 – Day 3

Day 3 of iMoot 2010 continued much in the same vain as Days 1 and 2, where back to back presentations continued thick and fast!

The majority of live sessions, however, have now been delivered, so today has been more about watching recorded sessions and then heading along to a separate chat window (rather than the Elluminate one) to ask the presenter questions. Whilst it is unreasonable to ask presenters to deliver the same presentation three times, the recorded session don’t have the same vibe as the live ones, especially you can’t ask ‘live’ questions.

The key highlights from today included:

  • ForumNG – A Modern Forum for Moodle 1.9Sam Marshall from the Open University gave a useful introduction to this alternative Moodle forum. This activity is not part of the ‘core’ Moodle code, but is available to anyone who wishes to use it. It includes a variety of features that are currently lacking from the default Moodle version, such as sticky posts, email subscription to individual forum posts (rather than to the entire forum) and time released forum posts. Additionally, utilisation of Ajax has meant that page refreshes are reduced. I really like the work that Sam has done of improving this key feature of Moodle, but would be reluctant to run two different forum types side by side within a single installation. My hope is that ForumNG (NG = Next Generation) gets adopted as the Moodle forum engine from version 2.1 onwards, thereby keeping to a single engine and ensuring an upgrade path for existing discussion forums, and the posts that they contain.
  • Making Moodle Funky by Bending the Code Leeds City College are one lucky institution! By having someone as skilled and inspiring as Lewis Carr onboard, their Moodle installation looks absolutely stunning. Lewis has developed a number of additions to Moodle by tweaking the code here and there, and including a whole range of additional functionality. These have included items such as developing a Moodle dashboard (or enhanced user profile screen) which includes an Xbox Live style points system, Ajax based user and course searching functionality, a Moodle stylesheet for the iPhone and new Moodle course layouts! I came away from this session absolutely buzzing, and determined to start doing more innovative and useful things with Moodle at the University of Bath. Both Andy Ramsden and I are really keen for the Software Developers in the e-Learning team to do more development work (rather than lots and lots of maintaining code), so this presentation might help steer some of the work than we do. It has to somehow fit in with our Moodle Development Plan for 2010 though!
  • Stories from the Moodle Community – Led by Helen Foster, Moodle’s Community Manager, this session gave a fantastic overview of some of the things that are going over at Moodle.org. From encouraging people to vote for items in the Moodle Tracker to giving a background to the community driven effort to develop a better wiki activity for Moodle 2.0, the far reaching session gave an insight into how the Moodle community really functions. The fact that Martin Dougiamas, Moodle’s Founder and Lead Developer, was offer $20million (US) some time ago for Moodle was rather amusing to hear!

Right, that’s enough for today I think. Another report will follow tomorrow no doubt ;-)

iMoot 2010 – Day 2

iMoot 2010 Day 2 saw a wide range of presentations from a large number of users from the Moodle community. The majority of resources have been made available through the iMoot 2010 website, http://imoot.org, (even for non attendees) so do head along there if you’re interested in finding out more about the conference.

The key highlights from today included:

  • Workshop 2.0 – David Mudrak’s excellent presentation on the this redeveloped Moodle activity was fantastic. The process of leading and completing peer assessment-type activities – from both teacher and student perspectives – has really been improved. I feel that this will become a real key feature of Moodle 2.0. The test site for Workshop 2.0 can be found at: http://test.moodle.net/workshop/. My concern about this activity still remains, but it is not necessarily a technical issue. It is more about developing a culture with units and programmes where students are happy to peer assess each others work, and importantly, know how to do it.
  • iMoot ‘Reflections and Projections’ – This was a session which reviewed the iMoot conference to date. Led by Julian Ridden, the conference organiser, this informal session was a great way in finding out more about the people behind the iMoot and helping to feed into the process of improving the conference in future years.
  • Using Forum – The Heart of Moodle – Presented by Tomaz Lasic, this session gave an overview of the popular Forum activity in Moodle, with tips on how to encourage engagement using a constructivist approach. As part of the session, Tomaz suggested the participants watch the Forum – the heart of Moodle video clip – http://vimeo.com/channels/44004#9088660

iMoot 2010 – Day 1

Earlier today, I attended the first day of iMoot 2010. It’s the first that a MoodleMoot has been brought together on a global scale, as in the past localised Moots have been held in physical location around the world – such as the UK-based ones that have been running over the last few years. This web based event is aiming to bring together a global audience of Moodle practitioners and administrators for the first time in one event which is based entirely online.

However, this brings along challenges in itself! With the conference being running on Australian time, rather than UK time, it has meant that I’ve been up and about during the middle of the night! On the advice of Andy Ramsden, I’ve booked a couple of days out of diary so as to full immerse myself in the iMoot experience. As such, it is not a huge deal if my sleep pattern gets a bit out of sync and that I end up sleep during the day… but still quite a challenge nevertheless!

The conference opened on Wednesday 2100 GMT with a keynote from Martin Dougiamas, Moodle Founder and Lead Developer. Martin spoke at length about Moodle 2.0 – essentially a follow on from the keynote he delivered last April at MoodleMoot 2009. [You can read my reflections from this elsewhere on this blog.]

With the beta of Moodle 2.0 due to be released within a month or so, final development work on this version is now in overdrive, and Martin is keen for people to push lots of items (bugs!) through the Moodle Tracker.

Rather the stating the key highlights from Moodle 2.0 once again – they are already available within the Moodle 2.0 roadmap – I am going to focus on the implications of the enhanced navigation in Moodle.

Themes rewrite [information from the roadmap] – The structure and design of themes has been rewritten for efficiency and flexibility. Unfortunately this means all themes need to be re-written for Moodle 2.0. To help you get started, Moodle 2.0 will ship with 20 brand-new standard themes designed to make Moodle look much nicer than ever before.

My notes from this part of the keynote read,

For Themes, there is better separation of code from design, which allows Moodle core functionality to be overriden by PHP, for example… without core code having to be rewritten/touched…

This is great from our point of view at  the University of Bath, and opens up some exciting possibilities. Our existing theme will have to be rewritten, which will be a driver for begin to think quite creatively about the basic theme that we offer, and in turn, the number of themes that we might offer thereafter. The new layout of Moodle 2.0 indicates some changes (or should that be developments, enhancements?) in terms of navigation. There are lots more AJAX type blocks to enable easier navigation, for example, along with some refinement of the current Administration block/menu.

This, in turn, will inevitably lead to a training and staff development overhead, which the e-Learning team, will have to think quite creatively about. It is key that we avoid the same level user confusion and frustration, as was encountered during the Moodle 1.9 rollout. This might be done by encouraging more users to get involved in the process of testing Moodle 2.0, prior to when we launch it across the institution.

That said, it might be unavoidable in some cases, which might make us think more keenly about some of the new(er) functionality that we turn on and off (for example, the sticky Comments block). In the cases where new functionality is core, we will need to be sure that a range of new FAQs are written and existing ones revisited.

We have some investigation of Moodle 2.0 factored in as part of our Moodle Development Plan 2010, so this will hopefully give us a good heads up during May – July 2010.

After catching a couple of hours of sleep, I then headed along to the Moodle HQ discussion, which was a 90 minute roundtable discussion led by Martin, with contributions from his HQ team. A number of items came out of this,

  • iPhone App – The Web Services API is key to how this application works, and this is due once PHP coding on Moodle 2.0 is complete. With existing investigations into student engagement in learning and teaching activities on mobile devices, this will be a welcome addition.
  • Service Performance – The Moodle installation at the University of Bath has suffered from some intermittent performance issues at peak periods. Moodle.org services 1.1 million users so it was interesting to hear about their server architecture.   Further details on this are available on the relevant discussion forum post. Additionally, lots of the Moodle 2.0 code has been rewritten so it is likely to be faster than Moodle 1.9 anyhow.

That’s all for today. Time to catch a couple more hours sleep, before Introduction to Moodle training in the morning ;-)


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