Category Archives: Peer instruction

June 13, 2012, 12:17 pm

Continuous learning instead of “lifelong learning”

This will probably be my last missive from the ASEE conference, since I’m going into my talk session in an hour and then heading directly to the airport. It’s been a good meeting, and it’s always good to rub shoulders with my engineering colleagues to see what they’re doing. As I blogged on Monday, engineers are doing some pretty great things in education.

One of the threads that has really resonated with me here is the necessity of lifelong learning in STEM education. I sort of dislike that term, “lifelong learning”, because I don’t feel like it conveys sufficient urgency. When you hear engineers talk about this, you get that urgency: The problems engineers face are increasing in complexity at an exponential pace, and as one plenary speaker put it, it’s essential to be able to add continuously to your skill set in order to be a practicing engineer. All the good grades in the world…

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May 8, 2012, 12:52 pm

A screenshot that illustrates what peer instruction can do

I blog a lot about peer instruction, but I think this screenshot from this morning’s Calculus 2 class is worth 1000 of my blog posts about just how effective a teaching technique PI can be. It’s from a question about average value of a function. Just before this question was a short lecture about average value in which I derived the formula and did an example with a graph of data (not as geometrically regular as the one you see below). I used Learning Catalytics to set up the question as Numerical, which means that student see the text and the picture on their devices along with a text box in which to enter what they think is the right answer. (I.e. it’s not multiple choice.) Here are the results of two rounds of voting (click to enlarge):

After the first round of voting, there were 12 different numerical answers for 23 students!   (Some of these would be the same answer if students …

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May 7, 2012, 8:58 pm

How the technology works in Calculus 2

Today we started the spring term, 6-week Calculus 2 class that I’ve been writing about for the last few days. We had a good time today, getting comfortable with each other and doing some review of the basics of the definite integral. Before we get too far into the term, I wanted to outline the technology infrastructure of the course.

For a long time, I’d used the learning management system (LMS) of my institution as the basic technology for the course, and everything else kind of fit around the LMS. At GVSU the default LMS is Blackboard. But I decided after used Blackboard this past year that we have irreconcilable differences. I don’t ask much from my LMS; I mainly use it to archive files, provide a link to a central calendar, post grades, and to make announcements. I don’t need all the dozens of other features Blackboard offers, and the profusion of features in Blackboard tends to…

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May 4, 2012, 4:00 pm

Peer instruction and Calculus 2

Sorry for the boring title and lack of catchy image, but since my first post about the upcoming six-week Calculus 2 course, I’ve expended all my creativity getting the course put together and getting ready for Monday. In the earlier post I laid down some design ground rules for the course. Here, I’m going to say a little more in detail about what we’ll be doing.

It’s especially important on a highly compressed schedule like ours to use the class meetings themselves to jumpstart the assimilation process and then train students on how to carry that process forward as they go to work on the day’s material in the afternoon and evening. This is always an important goal of class meetings in any course — I’d go as far as to say that this is why we have class meetings at all. But when you cram a 14-week course into 6 weeks, it doesn’t take long for one incorrectly-assimilated concept to…

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April 10, 2012, 8:00 am

Peer Discussion or Peer Pressure?

In peer instruction, students are given multiple choice questions to consider individually, followed by an individual vote on the question using a clicker. That’s followed up by a small group discussion which is followed by a re-vote. Typically the percentage of students getting the correct answer to the question jumps, often in my experience with nearly the entire class converging on the right answer following discussion. But does that jump happen because peer discussion helps students understand the material better, or because students with a weaker understanding are socially influenced by students with a stronger understanding?

This research paper has some data that suggest the former. The authors administered 16 different sets of PI questions to a large-lecture (n = 350) physics class. The questions were given in pairs of “isomorphic” questions, having different contexts and…

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February 27, 2012, 8:00 am

Encountering abstraction with clickers

I had the great pleasure this weekend of leading a session at Math In Action, which is Grand Valley’s annual K-12 educators’ conference. My session was called “Classroom Response Systems in Mathematics: Learning math better through voting” and was all about the kinds of learning that can take place in a class where active student choice is central and clickers are mediating the voting. (Here are the slides.)

It always seems like a bait-and-switch when I do a “clicker” workshop, because although people come to learn about clickers, I don’t really have much to say about the technology itself. As devices go, clickers are about as complex as a garage door opener, and in fact they work on the same principle. There’s not a lot to discuss. So instead, we spend our time focusing on the kinds of pedagogy that clickers enable — which tends to excite teachers more than technology does.

The a…

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February 17, 2012, 11:40 am

When are students teaching themselves?

Over the last 24 hours I have run into at least three situations where I’ve heard either peer instruction or the inverted classroom model as being pedagogical frameworks in which — according to others — “students teach themselves”. I don’t think this is accurate, and I’m trying to understand where this idea comes from.

Certainly in the inverted classroom model and in many instances of peer instruction, it’s simply not the case that “there is no lecture”. There can be a lot of lecture in either of these models. It’s just that the lectures are not given in class. They are broken up into rewindable, pause-able, digestible chunks and posted online where people can view them on their own schedules and according to their own listening practices. For my inverted MATLAB class, I recorded 41 screencasts’ worth of lectures, amounting to about 332 minutes of lecture, which is not very far off…

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February 9, 2012, 8:48 pm

Starting off in SoTL

Today I was excited to attend the startup meeting for a faculty learning community on the scholarship of teaching and learning (“SoTL”) here at GVSU. This group is sponsored and facilitated by our Faculty Teaching and Learning Center; it consists of the FTLC director and fellow faculty members from philosophy, history, computer science, and movement sciences. (And me.) Together over the next calendar year, we’re going to be working together to help each other develop research questions and projects in SoTL and serve as a sounding board for each others’ ideas.

I’ve been an end-user of SoTL for a long time and have done a lot of you might call “scholarship” in SoTL — for example all the writing and speaking I’ve done about the inverted classroom and clickers — but I’ve not done what I consider actual research in SoTL. One of the reasons I came to GVSU was to have the time, space, and …

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January 30, 2012, 7:55 am

The Owner and the Renter in Education

Since moving to west Michigan in July, my family and I have been living in an apartment while our house in Indiana sells sits on the market. This is the first time since 2001 that we’ve spent longer than six months in a rental property. Sunday morning, as we woke up to find that we’d been buried in snow overnight (as per usual in west Michigan), I realized that the home ownership habit runs pretty deep with me.

When I looked out the door and saw the image you see in the photo, I naturally grabbed the snow shovel, walked out the door, and started clearing off the walkway and the van. I got some curious looks from my neighbors, as if to say: What are you doing? We are paying rent not to have to do stuff like this. And it’s true: The apartment manager usually comes through shortly after a snowfall and clears off the walkways. Usually. But who knows? Maybe he won’t come today. And anyhow,…

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January 17, 2012, 8:00 am

A new online community for peer instruction users

Peer Instruction has gotten a lot of attention lately thanks to this NPR piece, “Physicists Seek to Lose the Lecture as a Learning Tool”.  Now, Eric Mazur — widely credited with the invention of peer instruction — is helping to create an online community of peer instruction users at peerinstruction.net.

If you go to that web site and click “Join”, you’ll be taken to a Google Documents form that asks for some basic demographics, and you’ll be added to a mailing list. The site has not officially launched yet, but from my Twitter stream there appears to be some considerable interest.

I’m hopeful that peerinstruction.net will be a good resource and, especially, a support group and collaboration incubator for PI users across multiple disciplines. I especially hope there are some resources for helping students and university administrators learn about PI.