Dr Ross Galloway: Peer Instruction

At UoE’s School of Physics and Astronomy, Ross Galloway uses teaching methods such as Peer Instruction as an integral part of his lectures. Ross has given a number of talks across the University that have attracted interest from PPLS staff.

Peer Instruction grew out of a number of observations made by Physics lecturers:

  • Students were good at grasping theoretical physics phrased in the language of equations, but were often poor at applying this theory to real-world scenarios.
  • Students were not exposed to their own misconceptions in the lecture theatre.
  • Lecturers could not accurately assess the level of understanding among their audience.

Here is one way Peer Instruction can work:

1. Ask a multiple choice question to your audience.

In Physics, these questions often test the practical application of a concept that you have been studying.

2. Students vote on the answer.

If possible, only the lecturer sees the results of this vote. This helps keep step 3 more of an open discussion.

> Find out more about in-class voting systems

3. Students share their answer with someone sitting near them, explaining why they gave that answer.

This is the peer instruction part. By having to articulate their ideas, students often discover gaps in their knowledge. Meanwhile, students with strong understanding are able to help those sitting near them.

4. Students vote again, this time with the results revealed to the class.

5. Back in whole-class mode, the lecturer invites individual students to say which answer they chose, and why they chose it.

The process is wrapped up by the lecturer confirming the correct answer and checking the validity of the explanations.

Peer Instruction in the humanities

Peer Instruction is presented here as a way to teach topics with right-wrong answers. While these topics are covered in PPLS, we also deal with issues which are less clear-cut. It’s therefore worth noting that this method can be adapted to fit more open-ended questions. For instance, a multiple choice question can be used to check intuitions or to provoke a response to a point of contention.

Further information

This article provides an overview to the work of Professor Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard who wrote one of the foundational texts about this method of teaching.

This case study by the University’s Institute for Academic Development also covers Eric Mazur’s teaching methods.

Monash University provide resources about how they have used Peer Instruction in their humanities teaching.

Derek Muller explains the value of addressing misconceptions when teaching Science (Video, 8 mins).