Peer Instruction

While going through some of my favorite education blogs I came across this post on pseudoteaching. It seems that pseudoteaching was spawned from pseudocontext, which talks about how contrived and non-realistic scenarios are presented to students as being real-life examples. For example, a math question where some convoluted set of circumstances between Joey, Joey’s cash and Joey’s shopping list means that the student has to solve a word problem. I think the idea of pseudoteaching takes this concept a bit further. First, there are the situations of teaching where pseudocontexts are used. Secondly, the teacher’s class itself is a pseudocontext, where the teacher thinks real learning is happening when in fact the learning is much shallower than realized.

If you accept the idea of pseudteaching and the lack of deep (should I say basic?) understandings of topics covered, I think one of the best resolutions appears to be Peer Instruction. PI was developed by Eric Mazur at Harvard. FWIW, I found this via Frank Noschese’s blog post on pseudoteaching.

For a brief intro to Mazur’s idea, check out this video:

For a longer video on how Mazur realized that he had a problem and how he attacked it can be seen here:

The idea of Peer Instruction resonates with me, along with the idea of psuedocontext. I’ve been reading quite a bit about 21st Century Learning where one of the focuses is to engage the students in real life situations or contexts. Unfortunately I think a lot of the effort in this sense is going towards the idea of psuedocontext and how textbooks and teachers inadvertently create “real life” questions that are simply too contrived to be believed. I raised this issue a year ago in discussions on teaching math. As a response to this, I’ve been working on a Greenmath Project, where actual problems or interests are used as the conduit for learning curriculum. This is quite different from the idea of learning the curriculum in order to pretend to understand a problem.

I’ve ordered a copy of Mazur’s Peer Instruction book and look forward to seeing what is inside it. So far it seems to me that Peer Instruction is much less not only about Instruction and a lot morebut is also about ASSESSMENT. Mazur’s first problem was that his initial assessment, summative tests, did not catch what the students were learning. By implementing Assessment For Learning techniques, Mazur is not only more aware of what his students know but the students use this assessment to guide their learning.

One of my big questions at this point is wondering what to do in the case that students don’t get it. If a student does their collaborative learning and inquiry projects but still needs help then I think transmission teaching would be appropriate and required. This reflects back to the ideas of Nativism - that knowledge can’t all of a sudden appear out of nowhere. I would also think that some introductory topics would require a kick-start in a teacher-centric role. For example, when introducing Newton’s three laws I think a small lecture would help. The students might not get it, but subsequent inquiries and peer instruction could solidify the concepts. I would be interested to hear what people think of this.