Thursday, May 6, 1999
Physics Colloquium, University of California San Diego (San Diego, CA)
Education is more than just transfer of information, yet that is mostly what happens in large introductory courses - instructors present material (even though this material might be readily available in printed form) and students take down as many notes as they can. This format tends to reinforce the idea that learning is about acquiring information rather than gaining new ways of thinking. In fields such as physics, in which learning consists primarily of developing new thinking skills, this is disastrous. Students get frustrated because their study strategies are inappropriate, and thus they feel lost. Instructors get frustrated because they don't know how to help their students grasp the material. The problem has a relatively simple solution: shift the focus in lectures from delivering information to coaching students in the way of thinking we call physics. This requires students to take more responsibility for obtaining the information in the first place, and gain valuable study skills in the process. This talk will present one approach to lecturing that accomplishes this change in focus, which we call Peer Instruction. During a class taught with Peer Instruction, the instructor of a large lecture class periodically poses conceptual questions to the students. Students answer these questions individually and then discuss them in small groups. A student described this method as ""turning lecture into a seminar."" This approach enhances student learning by confronting and correcting student difficulties and generates student enthusiasm in the process.