Thursday, November 4, 1999
1999 Sigma Xi Forum (Minneapolis, MN)
Most introductory undergraduate science courses are taught in large lectures. Although an efficient use of instructor time, passive lectures rarely challenge students to think critically in class, often reinforcing the common expectation that learning science amounts to acquiring information. Many students respond by memorizing facts or formulas without understanding the fundamental concepts. To actively engage students during class and focus their attention on underlying concepts, we have developed a student-centered approach to teaching large courses, Peer Instruction. Lectures are interspersed with short, conceptual questions called ConcepTests. Students formulate individual answers to these questions and then discuss their answers with neighbors, trying to convince each other, before hearing the instructor's explanation. This process gives students opportunities to articulate scientific arguments and ideas, learn from one another in a collaborative atmosphere, and assess their understanding of concepts during class. The instructor also receives immediate feedback on student understanding, enabling better matching class pace to students' needs. Peer Instruction can be easily implemented in most settings and fields, and is very adaptable. It is being used successfully by more than 500 faculty at many different institutions -- secondary schools to research universities -- in a variety of disciplines.