UCSD’s overwhelming argument for Peer Instruction in CS Classes

January 15, 2013 at 6:00 am 14 comments

For teachers in those old, stodgy, non-MOOC, face-to-face classes (“Does anybody even *do* that anymore?!?”), I strongly recommend using “Clickers” and Peer Instruction, especially based on these latest findings from Beth Simon and colleagues at the University of California at San Diego.  They have three papers to appear at SIGCSE 2013 about their multi-year experiment using Peer Instruction:

If we have such strong evidence that changing our pedagogy does work, are we doing our students a disservice if we do not use it?

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What is the current state of high school computer science professional development? The results of the UChicago Landscape Study NPR piece on Scratch

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Seb Schmoller  |  January 15, 2013 at 6:07 am

    In case it is of interest/use, here is a 1 hour interview (MP3 and text transcript) I did with Eric Mazur in Sheffield last year: http://fm.schmoller.net/2012/08/an-interview-with-eric-mazur.html

  • 2. alanone1  |  January 15, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Marvin Minsky once quipped “Every educational reform is doomed to succeed”. He meant “with some students”.

    I wonder about the “other students”. For example, I think I would have hated this scheme for learning computing, even while noticing that it works with some students.

    A big problem in general with “making classroom-like-things better” is the misunderstanding that “learning takes place in the classroom”. This is not even true in strictly oral societies.

    But the big point is that different students need different routes and need to learn different things along the way. This is much easier to do as a “hobby” or in a learning community which is set up to deal with students as they are.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  January 15, 2013 at 10:11 am

      Your comment also suggests a variant on Marvin Minsky’s statement: Every educational reform is a probe, telling us about the kinds of students we have. The fact that UCSD has such strong quantitative evidence suggests that most students today (at least at UCSD) do learn with this scheme, which suggests that most students aren’t like you. I’ll bet that there are students at UCSD who hate that scheme. They’re bored, but probably not failing. They probably wouldn’t have failed in another scheme, either.

      Have you ever read the paper that Amy Bruckman and her former student (now a prof at DePaul) Jose Zagal wrote about how Samba schools work? They did an empirical study, using Seymour’s description of them as a starting point. I’ll look to see if I can find a copy. They really do work, but the factors that make them work (e.g., involving so many members of the community, across the generations, in order to handle scale) make them challenging to use as a model for learning communities.

  • 4. Cynthia Lee  |  January 15, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Very pleased to see this post, thanks!

    There is a link already in the post, but I still wanted to chime in to encourage anyone feeling convinced by this post to head on over to http://www.peerinstruction4cs.org/, where we have ready-to-use Peer Instruction lecture materials for eight different courses (and expect two more added this week). We also have general getting started instructions and tips.

    And while I’m self-promoting, I’ll also mention two more papers about Peer Instruction that will appear in SIGCSE this year. These are focused less on making a quantitative case for Peer Instruction and more on supporting its use with examples of success and how-tos: Experience Report: CS1 in MATLAB for Non-Majors, with Media Computation and Peer Instruction (this course was previously featured here on this blog) and Peer Instruction in Computing: the Role of Reading Quizzes

  • 5. Brian Pomrenke  |  January 18, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Thanks great post and comments! Wanted to add that Beth Simon and her team at UCSD also did some great work and research on annotative and active learning impacts to engagement and outcomes.

  • […] a couple of SIGCSE Symposium 2013 preview posts (on the Dorn and Elliott Tew paper, and on the UCSD set of papers on Peer Instruction).  Here in my last preview post, I’ll give you a sense for what I’ll be up to.  I fly […]

  • […] is a positive evidence for the value of classroom culture.  Consider the work by Leo Porter and Beth Simon, where they found that combining pair programming, peer instruction, and Media Computation led to […]

  • […] productivity in terms of quality of learning and retention.  We absolutely have teaching methods, well-supported with research, that lead to better learning and more retention — we can get students to complete more […]

  • […] be teaching assistants.  In a session on dealing with classroom behavior and FERPA, I introduced peer instruction — I put scenarios up on the screen with four or five choices of responses, and the students […]

  • 10. Ken Bauer  |  November 1, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for the links to these studies Mark, I somehow missed this post back in January but you just pointed it out to me in today’s blog post. Now I’m motivated to go talk with the registrar on campus here to see if I can pull some of our data to do a similar study on the impact of our changes to the curriculum over the last year in first year CS. Our students all declare majors before entering here but I think I could do something similar by looking at degree changes to computing from other degrees (and vice versa) as well as general retention of students on campus.

  • […] And on peer instruction. […]

  • […] recitations, where students sit for 90 minutes and passively listen a recap of the lecture.  No peer instruction.  We know active learning is better, and we know that it’s even easier to do active learning […]

  • […] CS teaching methods. I want to be able to say to my colleague teachers, “Did you see what Beth, Leo, and Cynthia are doing with peer-instruction?  Or how about what Leo and Dan are doing from the last SIGCSE proceedings? Let’s try […]

  • […] believe strongly in active learning, such as Peer Instruction (as I have argued here and here).  I have discovered that it is far harder than I thought to do for large CS […]


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