How to use Peer Instruction…in Computer Science


The image of 25 lone kids with oversized, over-the-ear headphones eschew on their heads, eyes fixed and minds fixated on their computer screens, does not accurately depict today’s computer science classrooms.

There is new, and significant, reform movement afoot in computer science that aims to build deep conceptual understanding of big ideas and key computer science concepts for 21st century students, supported by extensive effort on behalf of computer science faculty, the National Science Foundation, and the College Board.

The big ideas are as follows:

  1. Creativity: Computing is a creative activity.
  2. Abstraction: Abstraction reduces information and detail to facilitate focus on relevant concepts.
  3. Data: Data and information facilitate the creation of knowledge.
  4. Algorithms: Algorithms are used to develop and express solutions to computational problems.
  5. Programming: Programming enables problem solving, human expression, and creation of knowledge.
  6. Internet: The Internet pervades modern computing.
  7. Impact: Computing has global impacts.

Ok, so we have our Big Ideas….now, how do we teach them to students?

It is clear to a growing number of computer science faculty that simply telling students, regardless of how booming, authoritative, and convincing our voices, that “Computing is a creative activity!” – students need to experience the creative nature of computing (broadly defined) to truly get it and to learn how to apply creative approaches themselves.

ConcepTest used in CS available from

Leaders in this movement, such as Peer Instruction Network member Beth Simon and Quintin Cutts reflected in an article on Peer Instruction in Computing that “often the computing community seems focused on what to teach, not how to teach it.”

A group of innovative computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego Department of Computer Science and Engineering are leading a charge to use Peer Instruction to transform traditional computer science (CS) education. Simon and UCSD colleague and Peer Instruction Network member Cynthia Bailey Lee, launched a new resource hub, Peer Instruction For Computer Science, which has free and complete course materials for CS courses, including CS Principles. You can even get materials for advanced CS courses, such as Theory of Computation and Computer Architecture.

Not a computer science teacher?

Take a look at the course materials to get ideas for writing your own ConcepTests. There is an implementation guide, which explains specifically how to implement PI in CS Principles Courses that has numerous general applications, such as advice for writing effective questions and engaging students.

In addition, the site lists current research on use of PI in computer sciences, including classroom studies which evaluate PI in CS across different contexts, including institutions and courses. Check out in particular this piece on learning gains: Peer instruction: do students really learn from peer discussion in computing?, which replicates Smith et al.’s article on PI: Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions (Science, 323, 122-124, 2009).

With endeavors such as PI4CS …

ComputerScienceStudents say Hello more..

to your neighbor and to innovative teaching and learning in your classrooms.

1 Comment

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  1. Computer Science

    Personal Computer Technology is still one of the most analyzed areas. Due to its need universities have started Computer Science online applications. As with the introduction of online education people have signed up in almost so many different areas but still computer science online level applications are popular. The Personal Computer science system concentrates mainly on the application side. Development in different dialects is taught in this area. Languages like BC-plus plus, BC, Pascal and Coffee. It also instructs computer programming concepts, computer programmingand operating application. In computer science applications a student must have a very sound understanding about all the basic applications, architectures and coding.

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