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].

Showcasing e-Learning tools and their applications

I noticed that over on the Overdue Ideas blog, the Library IT team at Imperial College are soon going to be running sessions where library staff can test of a variety of e-Learning hardware applications within a risk-free environment.

At the University of Bath, we have recently reworked our e-Learning Staff Development programme to include more diverse areas of interest, such as the use of SMS/texting to support large group teaching and the use of Skype to support distance learners. This, in the main, has been disseminated through the e-Learning Seminar Series. In addition, we beginning to use an Audience Response System within all e-Learning staff development seminars and workshops, not only as a means to increase (further) interactivity within sessions, but also as a means of showcasing new such technologies.

I like the approach that the Library IT team are taking at Imperial College. Perhaps, the might be done through the “What can e-Learning do for me?” sessions during semester 1, 2008/2009. In addition, might it be worth running some very informal drop-in sessions where colleagues can drop by and test out some of the technologies in an informal enviroment? I remember the Learning Support team doing something similar earlier on in the summer.

Using Podcasting in Learning and Teaching

I attended the first presentation of our Summer Seminar Series 2008 earlier on today, entitled Using Podcasting in Learning and Teaching. The session gave a useful introduction to podcasting, giving demonstrating how easy it is to both create and disseminate podcasts using RSS feeds. Whilst I’ve used iTunes in the past to subscribe to audio-related RSS feeds, an alternative was put forward in the form of Juice, which is billed as a “cross-platform podcast reciever”.

Most interesting during the presentation was Andy Ramsden’s Framework to assess educational podcasts – Instructor actively involved. In this particular approach, student created podcasts are perceived to have the greatest effectiveness when it comes to the primary delivery mechanism for learning materials. In particular, this also extends to a greater level of motivation to listen and engage with the content of the audio, in turn leading to deeper learning. Whilst I would tend to agree with this conclusion, I wonder if students have as yet been equipped with the skills, technical know-how” and intuition to create such content. This despite the existence of software such as Audacity. Student-led courses such as “Creating your own Podcast” could potentially be delivered through the SORTED scheme.

I’ve got my own session, Supporting collaborative activites using Wikis next Thursday… so if you’re a member of staff at the University of Bath, and haven’t signed up to attend yet, please do!


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