Posts tagged ‘peer instruction’
I enjoy reading Annie Murphy Paul’s essays, and this one particularly struck home because I just got my student opinion surveys from last semester. I use active learning methods in my Media Computation class every day, where I require students to work with one another. One student wrote:
“I didn’t like how he forced us to interact with each other. I don’t think that is the best way for me to learn, but it was forced upon me.”
It’s true. I am a Peer Instruction bully.
At a deeper level, it’s amazing how easily we fool ourselves about what we learn from and what we don’t learn from. It’s like the brain training work. We’re convinced that we’re learning from it, even if we’re not. This student is convinced that he doesn’t learn from it, even though the available evidence says she or he does.
In case you’re wondering about just what “active learning” is, here’s a widely-accepted definition: “Active learning engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussion in class, as opposed to passively listening to an expert. It emphasizes higher-order thinking and often involves group work.”
Important new paper in Nature that makes the argument for active learning in all science classes, which is one of the arguments I was making in my Top Ten Myths blog post. The image and section I’m quoting below are about a different issue than learning — turns out that active learning methods are important for retention, too.
Active learning is winning support from university administrators, who are facing demands for accountability: students and parents want to know why they should pay soaring tuition rates when so many lectures are now freely available online. It has also earned the attention of foundations, funding agencies and scientific societies, which see it as a way to patch the leaky pipeline for science students. In the United States, which keeps the most detailed statistics on this phenomenon, about 60% of students who enrol in a STEM field switch to a non-STEM field or drop out2 (see ‘A persistence problem’). That figure is roughly 80% for those from minority groups and for women.
I passed on to the MediaComp-Teach list something I’m trying to do in my class this semester. I had several suggestions to share it with others. It’s based on worked examples and peer instruction.
I’m teaching Python MediaComp, first time in 8 years on campus. We have just shy of 300 students, and I have 155 in my lecture. While I’m a big fan of worked examples, the way I’ve used them in small classes of 30-40 won’t work with 155.
Here’s what I’m doing this semester. Every Thursday, I distribute a PDF with a bunch of code in sets, like this:
The students are getting 12-20 little programs every Thursday. Most students type them ALL in before lecture Friday morning at 10 am.
Then on Friday, I put up PI-like questions like this:
Students are required to work on these in groups. I walk around the lecture hall and insist that nobody sit alone. I get lots of questions in the five minutes when everybody’s working away.
We don’t have clickers, but I’ve given every student four colored index cards. When I call for votes, everybody holds up the right colored card.
Here’s the interesting part — they TALK about the programs. Here’s a question in Piazza with a student’s answer:
The other instructor in the class is also using these, and he says that the students are using them after the Friday lecture as examples to study from and to use in building homework. I’ve had lots of comments about these from students, in office hours and via email. They find them valuable to study.
My worked examples aren’t giving them much process. I am getting them to look at lots of programs, type them in, get them running, and think about them. I’m pretty excited about it. Given that I haven’t been in this class in the last 8 years, the class isn’t really “mine” anymore. I’m trying to be sensitive to how much I change about a huge machine (14 TA’s, two instructors…) that I’m only visiting in. But everyone seems into this, and it’s fitting in pretty easily.
I have been uploading all of the PDF’s, PPTs, and PY’s at http://home.cc.gatech.edu/mediaComp/95, if you’re interested. (There are some weeks missing because Atlanta actually had some Winter this year.)
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. It’s informing my next round of research proposals.
We know more about how to retain students these days, the “hold” part of Dewey’s challenge mentioned below — consider the UCSD results and the MediaComp results. But how do we “catch” attention? We are particularly bad at “catching” the attention of women and minority students. Our enrollment numbers are rising, but the percentage of women and under-represented minorities is not rising. Betsy DiSalvo has demonstrated a successful “catch” and “hold” design with Glitch. Can we do this reliably? What are the participatory design processes that will help us create programs that “catch”?
So what can parents, teachers and leaders do to promote interest? The great educator John Dewey wrote that interest operates by a process of “catch” and “hold”—first the individual’s interest must be captured, and then it must be maintained. The approach required to catch a person’s interest is different from the one that’s necessary to hold a person’s interest: catching is all about seizing the attention and stimulating the imagination. Parents and educators can do this by exposing students to a wide variety of topics. It is true that different people find different things interesting—one reason to provide learners with a range of subject matter, in the hope that something will resonate.
Leo Porter, Charlie McDowell, Beth Simon, and I collaborated on a paper on how to make introductory programming work, now available in CACM. It’s a shorter, more accessible version of Leo and Beth’s best-paper-award winning SIGCSE 2013 paper, with history and kibitzing from Charlie and me :
Many Communications readers have been in faculty meetings where we have reviewed and bemoaned statistics about how bad attrition is in our introductory programming courses for computer science majors (CS1). Failure rates of 30%–50% are not uncommon worldwide. There are usually as many suggestions for how to improve the course as there are faculty in the meeting. But do we know anything that really works?
We do, and we have research evidence to back it up. Pair programming, peer instruction, and media computation are three approaches to reforming CS1 that have shown positive, measurable impacts. Each of them is successful separately at improving retention or helping students learn, and combined, they have a dramatic effect.
I highly recommend Shuchi Grover’s piece in EdSurge news (linked below). She makes a great point — that the goal of learning computing goes beyond learning to code. It’s not enough to learn to code. She talks about the challenge of learning to code:
There are similar themes in Roy Pea’s 1983 paper with Midian Kurland, “On the cognitive prerequisites of learning computing programming.”
Even among the 25% of the children who were extremely interested in learning programming, the programs they wrote reached but a moderate level of sophistication after a year’s work and approximately 30 hours of on-line programming experience. We found that children’s grasp of fundamental programming concepts such as variables, tests, and recursion, and of specific Logo primitive commands such as REPEAT, was highly context-specific and rote in character. To take one example: A child who had written a procedure using REPEAT which repeatedly printed her name on the screen was unable to recognize the efficiency of using the REPEAT command to draw a square. Instead, the child redundantly wrote the same line-drawing procedure four times in succession.
Coding is hard. Coding has always been hard. We want students to know more than just code about computing.
I’m not sure that Shuchi is right. Maybe learning to code is enough — if it happens. When I studied foreign languages in secondary and post-secondary school (Latin and French for me), there was a great emphasis on learning the culture of a language. There was an explicit belief that learning about the culture of a language facilitated learning the language. Does it go further? Can one learn the language without knowing anything about the culture? If one does learn the language well, did you necessarily learn the culture too? Maybe it works the same for programming languages.
Our human-centered computing PhD students who focus on learning sciences and technologies (LS&T) are required to read two chapters of Noss and Hoyles 1996 book Windows on Mathematical Meanings: Learning Cultures and Computers. They make the argument that you can’t learn Logo well apart from an effective classroom culture. As Pea and Kurland noted in 1983, and Grover has noted thirty years later in 2013, students aren’t really learning programming well.
What if they did? What if students did learn programming? Would they necessarily also learn computing? And isn’t it possible that a culture that taught programming well would also teach things beyond coding? Maybe even problem-solving skills? David Palumbo’s excellent review of the literature on programming and problem-solving pointed out that there was very little link from programming to problem-solving skills — but for the most part, students weren’t learning programming. I don’t really think that that would work, that learning to code would immediately lead to learning problem-solving skills. I do wonder if learning to code might also lead to learning the other things that we think are important about computing.
There 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 positive retention and learning (as measured by success in later classes). Porter and Simon have also noted how students learning programming also develop new insight into the applications that they use. Maybe it’s the case that if you change the culture in the classroom and what students do, and maybe students learn programming and computing.
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:
- They found that use of Peer Instruction, beyond the first course (into theory and architecture), halved their failure rates: http://db.grinnell.edu/sigcse/sigcse2013/Program/viewAcceptedProposal.pdf?sessionType=paper&sessionNumber=176
- They found that the use of Peer Instruction, with Media Computation and pair-programming, in their first course (on the quarter system, so it’s only 10 weeks of influence) increased the percentage of students in their major (tracking into the second year and beyond) up to 30%: http://db.grinnell.edu/sigcse/sigcse2013/Program/viewAcceptedProposal.pdf?sessionType=paper&sessionNumber=96
- They also did a lecture vs. Peer Instruction head-to-head comparison which showed significant impact of the instructional method: http://db.grinnell.edu/sigcse/sigcse2013/Program/viewAcceptedProposal.pdf?sessionType=paper&sessionNumber=223
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?