Peer Instruction actively engages the students in their own learning

The idea is to teach by questioning rather than telling


According to Professor Eric Mazur (who spoke on assessment and Peer Learning at the SSAT Annual conference  this month in Manchester ) one problem with conventional teaching lies in the presentation of the material. Frequently, it comes straight out of textbooks and/or lecture notes, giving students little incentive to attend class. That the traditional presentation is nearly always delivered as a monologue in front of a passive audience compounds the problem. Lectures are about information transfer but Mazur points out that education is about much more than this. Information transfer is easy but information assimilation by the student is much more challenging. One way forward is to move information transfer out of the classroom and ensure that students are then well prepared for subsequent value added in depth classroom work.

Over the years, he discovered that students in his introductory physics course were passing exams without having understood the fundamental concepts he was trying to teach. In response to this problem, Professor Mazur developed a variety of interactive techniques linked to each other in ways that help his students learn basic concepts far better than before.

Requiring students to read, think, and reflect before the lecture or class  is the first step in Professor Mazur’s interactive process. He also uses the course website to monitor their learning and communicate with his students.

So how   do you move information transfer out of classroom? You can use according to Mazur  Just in Time Teaching  JiTT (before class) and Peer Instruction  (in class)!

Just in Time Teaching and learning strategy is based on the interaction between web-based study assignments and an active learner classroom. Students respond electronically to carefully constructed web-based assignments which are due shortly before class, and the instructor reads the student submissions “just-in-time” to adjust the classroom lesson to suit the students’ needs. Thus, the heart of JiTT is the “feedback loop” formed by the students’ outside-of-class preparation that fundamentally affects what happens during the subsequent in-class time together.


  • prepares the teacher for class
  • prepares students for class
  • helps the teacher to address student difficulties (and to adjust teaching in the class following feedback)



  • helps students overcome difficulties
  • encourages deep learning
  • provides depth, not “coverage”
  • helps you become aware of misconceptions


Only exceptional lecturers are capable of holding students’ attention for an entire lecture period. It is even more difficult to provide adequate opportunity for students to critically think through or drill down into the arguments being developed. Teachers and lecturers will often assume that students are listening, learning and retaining information that they can apply later on to problem solve .But this is often not the case. How do you know that students understand what you are teaching and how do you help them understand?. Lectures can simply reinforce students’ feelings that the most important step in mastering the material is memorizing a zoo of apparently unrelated examples.

In order to address these misconceptions about learning,Mazur has been part of a programme to  develop a method, Peer Instruction, which involves students in their own learning during lectures and focuses their attention on underlying concepts. Lectures are interspersed with conceptual questions, called ConcepTests, designed to expose common difficulties in understanding the material. The students are given one to two minutes to think about the question and formulate their own answers; they then spend two to three minutes discussing their answers in groups of three to four, attempting to reach consensus on the correct answer. This process forces the students to think through the arguments being developed, and enables them (as well as the instructor) to assess their understanding of the concepts even before they leave the classroom.

Mazur says “ I have taught two different levels of introductory physics at Harvard using this strategy and have found that students make significant gains in conceptual understanding (as measured by standardized tests) as well as gaining problem solving skills comparable to those acquired in traditionally taught classes. Dozens of instructors at other institutions have implemented Peer Instruction with their own students and found similar results.”

Mazur claims that Peer Instruction is easy to implement in almost any subject and class. It doesn’t require retooling of entire courses or curricula, or significant expenditures of time or money. All that is required is a collection of ConcepTests (available on Project Galileo) and a willingness to spend some of class time on well regulated  student discussion.

Mazur says “You can forget facts, but you cannot forget understanding. And that’s actually exactly what I would like to achieve here. I want them to understand the subject so, that they know it for the rest of their life.”


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