How to use Peer Instruction to Flip your Classroom


Peer Instruction: A research-based method for flipping your classroom.

While “flipping the classroom” may seem like a recent phenomenon, Peer Instruction, developed in the early 1990s, has always elevated that core educational site to a place where much more than information delivery transpires. Backed by more than 20 years of research, PI transforms classrooms from antiquated lecture halls to interactive learning spaces full of lively subject-matter conversations.

Check out these Brazilian high school students turning to their neighbors in a physics class. The video was provided courtesy of PI Network Members, teacher Vagner Oliveira (IFSul – Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology Sul-rio-grandense) and Professor Ives Araujo (UFRGS – Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul).

Teachers using PI motivate students to engage in information consumption outside of class through learning activities, usually involving media (online, audio, video, or print). Guided by prompts, students listen/watch/read/annotate/collaborate with peers/and reflect on their knowledge as a warm up for what will happen during class time. This is distinct from homework: in a PI class, students do homework in an entirely different context.

We use Just-in-Time Teaching to facilitate warming up or out-of-class engagement. We prompt our students to consume and reflect on content before each and every class period. Students respond to a web-based form which poses two conceptually-based questions about the content and the following feedback question: What did you find most confusing or interesting about this content, or what do you think is the most important thing for us to focus on during class time?

Before students get to class, we take these responses and mine them for themes around confusion, misconception, or interest. Then we select our in-class instructional activities and prepare ConcepTests (conceptually-based questions) tailored directly to what students tell us they need.

We then spend in-class time addressing students’ confusion, misconceptions, and interest by engaging them in activities that allow them to assimilate (NOT consume) information, face-to-face with their instructor, teaching assistants, and most importantly their peers. These activities include explanations from faculty, interactive lecture demonstrations, and most importantly collaboration and engagement in peer discussion. The ConcepTests are designed to further expose common difficulties in understanding during class and to provide feedback to instructors on whether students are getting “it” or not.

Boston University Professor and Peer Instruction Network member, Lorena Barba shared this article about how she is flipping her computational fluid dynamics class at BU. Barba is implementing a fascinating variant on PI and emphasizes the importance of pedagogy over technology.

What kind of flipped or inverted classroom activities do you have your students do to warm up for a PI class?


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