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Peer Instruction: Development, evaluation, resources, and dissemination
Since developing Peer Instruction (PI), a collaborative and interactive teaching technique, in 1991, we
have been 1) disseminating the technique, 2) gathering data on its effectiveness (see publication list
below), and 3) developing web-based tools to help instructors implement the method. We have applied
the method in both the calculus-based and the algebra-based introductory physics courses for non-majors
at Harvard University. Instructors nationwide have adopted the method across a variety of disciplines and
courses, including senior-level courses, at a large number of institutions nationwide. Substantial gains in
student achievement when comparing courses taught using PI to those taught with traditional pedagogy
have been documented. These gains have been determined by a number of measures, including student
mastery of content [1%GĀ‚Äď%@10]. The trend in improving student understanding proves to be particularly
beneficial to female students, whose performance increases substantially, when taught using this
interactive method .
The primary resource needed for teaching with PI is a supply of suitable ConcepTests (CTs) %GĀ‚ÄĒ%@
questions that test studentsí°« understanding of the basic concepts covered . We have developed and
refined over 1,000 CTs for use in introductory physics courses. These CTs are freely available to
instructors through the ILT web site (detailed below), together with over 400 additional CTs that have
been contributed by others. An indicator of the rapid spread of the method is the availability of books
with ConcepTests for chemistry, astronomy, and calculus courses. We are currently in the process of
adding this material to the ILT web site.
Under NSF sponsorship, we developed Project Galileo4, a store of extensive resources for
interactive learning pedagogies, targeting both large and small classroom teaching techniques, which are
available to the entire teaching community. Using funds from a NSF Directorí°«s Distinguished Teaching
Scholar Award, we created the Interactive Learning Toolkit, a learning management system that allows
instructors to implement several proven innovative teaching techniques and to share and review materials
they create for these techniques. The ILT is currently in use at a number of institutions nationwide,
including Vanderbilt, University of Southern California, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Salem State
College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Swarthmore College, with a student user base of several
thousand students per semester.
We also invested a great deal of effort disseminating our findings nationwide, as we feel that it is
crucial to share the results of our research. In the last several years, Eric Mazur and other members of the
group have given more than one hundred invited talks on PI in a variety of venues:
%GĀ‚ÄĀĘ%@ Physics department colloquia at a wide range of institutions from large state universities to small
liberal arts colleges and community colleges;
%GĀ‚ÄĀĘ%@ Workshops for new faculty sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers and the NSFfunded
Engineering Education Scholars program; and
There is a significant body of literature concerning theories of and best practices for collaborative
learning . In general, the motivation behind collaborative learning is to make students active
participants in the learning process, assigning them more responsibility for their own education. Students
explore concepts in depth as opposed to the í°»inch-deep, mile-wideí°… curriculum so common in
traditionally taught classes. However, collaborative learning need not be at the cost of í°»coverageí°…. By
moving some of the non-interactive activities out of the classroom, it is possible to maintain coverage
without sacrificing in depth discussion. Many researchers have come to the conclusion that promoting
discussion between students in learning communities is the most important influence of the effectiveness
of education [14, 15]. Moreover, the quality of this interaction between students is a crucial factor for
determining the success of learning .
Treismaní°«s pioneering work on collaborative learning [16%GĀ‚Äď%@18] demonstrates that Asian students
in college calculus at the University of California-Berkeley typically study in groups, help each other with
homework and exam preparation, and often consult with the instructor for help with difficult assignments.
These students are disproportionately successful in the course. In contrast, African-American students
typically work alone, do not seek help outside of class from the instructor, and, on average, do not
perform as well in the course. Treisman therefore established a program to foster collaborative work
among African-American students, finding that it resulted in a dramatic improvement in the performance
of these students in the course. Although the program does not require it, students in the collaborative
program also tend to consult with the instructor outside of class more often.
Dougherty et al.  carried out a controlled study on educational effectiveness of three
pedagogical strategies in different sections of an introductory college-level chemistry course: standard
lecture format, unstructured cooperative interaction, and formal collaborative exercises. The authors
found that the unstructured cooperative environment is significantly more effective than the control, and
the formal structured environment is significantly more effective than the unstructured. Kovac 
conducted a similar study in a general chemistry course, employing many of the features we use in our
physics courses at Harvard, such as teaching using CTs, and cooperative learning workshops/tutorials.
Results from this study, as with Dougherty above indicate that active learning methods appear to produce
a better learning environment, leading to an increase in student satisfaction and better academic
Peer Instruction (PI) is a promising method for affecting fundamental, systemic improvement in
science education [21%GĀ‚Äď%@23]. The goal of PI is to promote student interaction in classes (including large
classes) and to focus studentsí°« attention on underlying concepts. The class is broken up into a number of
brief discussions of the key points of the material. Each of these discussions includes one or more CTs %GĀ‚ÄĒ%@
a short conceptual questions that challenge students to put the material at hand into practice. Students are
given about a minute to formulate and record an individual answer to the question posed and are then
asked to try to convince neighboring students of the correctness of their own answers. After a few minutes
of peer-to-peer discussion, students record their possibly revised answers, usually followed by a
clarification by the instructor reinforcing the main concept.
PI demands that students think critically about the material and participate actively in the learning
process; in addition, it uncovers student misunderstandings in real time so that they can be identified and
corrected at once. PI is also particularly efficient because it helps those who get the answer right as well
as those who get it wrong. Students answering correctly improve their own understanding by explaining
CTs to others (consistent with research that shows high-ability students benefit from collaboration
[25%GĀ‚Äď%@26]), and students answering incorrectly benefit from individualized explanations and the opportunity
to ask follow-up questions of their classmates.
Our ten years of experience with PI, as well as feedback from about 400 other instructors who
have used PI , indicate that it is a successful way to actively engage students in large classes.
Moreover, actively engaging students during class with a method such as PI leads to significant gains in
conceptual understanding, as measured with standard conceptual instruments. Students in our calculusbased
introductory physics course achieve Force Concept Inventory gains that are roughly twice those of
students in the same course taught traditionally, a level of improvement typical of a variety of interactive
engagement strategies in physics . Students also show comparable or improved quantitative problemsolving
skills, despite a reduced emphasis on problems in class [11, 12].
Research on collaborative education nearly universally indicates that collaborative work is more
effective than passive learning. Our experiences with PI, as well as those of many others, who have
responded to our survey, show PI to be an effective collaborative approach to learning.
Interactive Learning Toolkit
Two years ago, we published the result of an online survey of PI users in diverse settings.  This
survey alerted us to some key areas that instructors found challenging, including the time taken to
structure and organize teaching with PI efficiently, the lack of teaching materials (specifically CTs), use
of class time to encourage student-instructor interaction and increasing student interaction and
participation in the course. As a result, we created and developed a learning management system, which
not only supports and improves the teaching and learning experience, but also targets these key problem
areas. The resulting ILT is an open-source project based on open standards and is currently in use at a
number of collaborating institutions nationwide. With help from current users, we are continuing to
develop content and tools for interactive learning pedagogies.
Our progress to date has involved the development of the following features:
Ā• Course web site creation. We created a set of tools that allow an instructor to structure and create (or
search from our ever-growing database of questions) content for their class, make that content
available for students, and then analyze the feedback from the students.
Ā• Reading assignments. In order to í°∆free-upí°« precious class time for more interactive activities, we
developed an on-line pre-class reading assignment tool.
Ā• Face book. To help improve the personalized interaction between the student and instructor, we
developed a í°»face bookí°… in ILT. What this means is that anywhere a studentí°«s name appears in ILT, it
links it to their picture, and also to a portal page showing their progress in all aspects of the course.
This novel tool helps the instructor to become more familiar with each student, helping improve
individual interaction and to quickly identify students who might be struggling in the course. This is
of particular pedagogical value in a large class, where students normally remain anonymous.
Ā• Asynchronous student-instructor interaction. To increase student-instructor interaction, the toolkit
incorporates a number of innovative communication features. It incorporates an interface that enables
the instructor to process student responses to online assignments in a large class and quickly and
efficiently and to respond to students who need help. ILT speeds up reviewing the studentsí°« responses
and answering them quickly by storing answers for re-use, by identifying similar student responses
and making it possible to quickly send individualized answers to these students via e-mail. A similar
mechanism is also available to the instructor to handle email from the students enrolled in the course.
Ā• Equal attention to every student. We built in a mechanism to encourage instructors to give all students
equal attention. The system monitors instructor-student interactions and sorts the list of students in
such a way that those whom the instructor has interacted with least in the term are always listed at the
top. This mechanism encourages an instructor to spend equal time interacting with every student.
Ā• Re-use of material. Once an instructor has created a course online, the ILT has a cloning feature that
allows the instructor to clone the course and re-use it in whole, or adapt specific content within it. A
calendar-based scheduling feature allows the quick development of a new course schedule,
incorporating material used in a previous iteration of the course.
Ā• Online assessment. The ILT also provides an extensive assessment feature that allows instructors to
develop and use their own assessment instruments, or use one of an available assortment of
Ā• Sharing. Finally, and most importantly, ILT provides a location to í°»warehouseí°… course content so it
can be shared by the entire community of instructors. An simple rights management system allows
instructors to either maintain their copyright or to place their material in the public domain.
Ā• Personal Response System (PRS). We have also begun to incorporate support for gathering student
responses to CTs using infrared PRS transmitters. The resulting data can be uploaded to the database
to their corresponding CT, allowing instructors to review the efficacy of a particular CT after class. In
addition the CT data is also connected to the studentsí°« records, so that the instructor can review an
individual student performance.
 Dufresne, R., W. J. Gerace, P. T. Hardiman, and J. P. Mestre, í°»Constraining novices to
perform expert-like problem analyses: Effects on schema acquisition,í°… Journal of the
Learning Sciences, 2 (3), 307-331 (1992).
 Gerace, W., R. Dufresne, W. Leonard, and J. Mestre, í°»Minds-On Physics: An integrated
curriculum for developing concept-based problem-solving skills in physicsí°… (1999), Cited at
 Hake, Richard, í°»Socratic Pedagogy in the Introductory Physics Lab,í°… The Physics Teacher,
30, 546 (1992).
 Heller, P., R. Keith, and S. Anderson, í°»Teaching problem solving through cooperative
grouping. Part 1: Group vs. individual problem solving,í°… and P. Heller and M. Hollabaugh,
í°»Teaching problem solving through cooperative grouping. Part 2: Designing problems and
structuring groups,í°… American Journal of Physics, 60, 627-644 (1992).
 Laws, Priscilla, Workshop Physics Activity Guide, John Wiley & Sons, New York (1997);
McDermott, Lillian C., and members of the Physics Education Group, í°»Physics by Inquiry,
Vols. I and IIí°…, John Wiley & Sons, New York (1996).
 Novak, Gregor, Evelyn T. Patterson, Andrew D. Gavrin, and Wolfgang Christian, í°»Just-in-
Time Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technologyí°…, Prentice Hall, Upper
Saddle River, NJ (1999).
 Redish, E.F., J. M. Saul, and R. N. Steinberg, í°»On the Effectiveness of Active-Engagement
Microcomputer-Based Laboratories,í°… American Journal of Physics, 65, 45-54 (1997).
 Reif, F., í°»Instructional design, cognition, and technology: Applications to the teaching of
scientific concepts,í°… Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 24 (4), 309-324 (1987).
 Sokoloff, David, Priscilla Laws, and Ronald Thornton, í°»RealTime Physicsí°…, Vernier
Software, Portland, OR (1995).
 Halloun, I. A., and D. Hestenes, í°»Modeling instruction in mechanics,í°… American Journal of
Physics, 55, 455-462 (1987).
 Mazur, E., í°»Peer Instruction: A Userí°«s Manualí°…, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ
 Crouch, Catherine H.; and Eric Mazur, í°»Peer Instruction: Ten Years of Experience and
Results,í°… American Journal of Physics, 69, 970-977 (2001), Cited at
 Crouch, Catherine H., Emily Fair Oster, and Eric Mazur, í°»Factors Affecting Gender
Disparity in Introductory Physics,í°… presented at the American Physical Society Centennial
Meeting, Atlanta, GA, March (1999), Cited at http://mazurwww.
 Johnson, David W., Roger T. Johnson, and Karl A. Smith, í°»Active Learning: Cooperation in
the College Classroomí°…, Interaction Book Co., Edina, MN (1991), and references therein;
Bruffee, Kenneth A., í°»Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence and the
Authority of Knowledgeí°…, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore (1999).
 Johnson, D.W., and R, Johnson, í°»Cooperation and Competition: Theory and Researchí°…,
Interaction Book Co, Edina, MN (1989).
 Treisman, Philip Uri. í°»A Study of the Mathematics Achievement of Black Students at the
University of California, Berkeleyí°…, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of
California, Berkeley, Professional Development Program (1985).
 Fullilove, Robert E., and Philip Uri Treisman, í°»Mathematics achievement among African
American undergraduates at the University of California, Berkeley: An evaluation of the
Mathematics Workshop Program,í°… The Journal of Negro Education, 59 (3), 463-478 (1990)
 Treisman, Uri, í°»Studying students studying calculus: A look at the lives of minority students
in college,í°… The College Mathematics Journal 23 (5), 362-372 (1992).
 Dougherty, R.C., C.W. Bowen, T. Berger, W. Rees, E.K. Melton, and E. Pulliam,
í°»Cooperative learning and enhanced communication: Effects on student performance,
retention, and attitudes in general chemistry,í°… Journal of Chemical Education, 72 (9), 793-
 Kovac, Jeffrey, í°»Student Active Learning Methods in General Chemistry,í°… Journal of
Chemical Education 76 (1), 120-124 (1999), Cited at
 í°»The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University,
Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for Americaí°«s Research Universitiesí°…
(1998) Cited at http://notes.cc.sunysb.edu/Pres/boyer.nsf
 í°»Transforming Undergraduate Educationí°…, National Academy Press, Washington, DC
 í°»Science Teaching Reconsidered: A Handbookí°…, National Academy Press, Washington, DC
 Paulson, Donald R, í°»Active learning and cooperative learning in the organic chemistry
lecture class,í°… Journal of Chemical Education, 76 (8), 1136-1140 (1999), Cited at
 Janicki, Terence C., and Penelope L. Peterson, í°»Individual characteristics and childrení°«s
learning in large-group and small-group approaches,í°… The Journal of Educational
Psychology, 71 (5), 677-687 (1979)
 Okebukola, Peter A., and Meshach B. Ogunniyi, í°»Cooperative, competitive, and
individualistic science laboratory interaction patterns%GĀ‚ÄĒ%@Effects on studentsí°« achievement and
acquisition of practical skills,í°… Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 21 (9), 875-884
 Fagen, A., C.H. Crouch and E. Mazur, í°»Peer Instruction: Results from a Range of
Classroomsí°…, The Physics Teacher, 40, 206-209 (2002), Cited at
 Hake, R.R, í°»Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student
survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses,í°… American Journal of
Physics, 66 (1). 64-74 (1998).
Mazur publications on PI:
1. í°»Qualitative vs. quantitative thinking: Are we teaching the right thing?,í°… Eric Mazur, Optics and
Photonics News 3, 38-38 (1992).
2. í°»Science lectures: A relic of the past,í°… Eric Mazur, Physics World 9, 13-14 (1996).
3. í°»The problem with problems,í°… Eric Mazur, Optics and Photonics News 6, 59-60 (1996).
4. Peer Instruction: A User's Manual, Eric Mazur, Series in Educational Innovation, (Prentice Hall,
Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1997), 253 pages.
5. í°»Peer Instruction: Getting students to think in class,í°… Eric Mazur, in The Changing Role of Physics
Departments in Modern Universities, Part Two: Sample Classes, eds. Edward F. Redish and John S.
Rigden, AIP Conference Proceedings 399, pp. 981-988 (American Institute of Physics, Woodbury,
6. í°»Understanding or memorization: Are we teaching the right thing?í°… Eric Mazur, in the proceedings
of the Conference on the Introductory Physics Course, ed. Jack Wilson, 113-124 (Wiley, New York,
7. í°»Peer Instruction: An interactive approach for large classes,í°… Catherine H. Crouch, Optics and
Photonics News 9 (9), 37-41 (1998).
8. í°»Closing the gender gap in introductory physics,í°… Catherine H. Crouch, Emily Fair Oster, and Eric
Mazur,í°… presented at the American Physical Society Centennial Meeting, Atlanta, GA, March 1999;
manuscript in preparation.
9. í°»Confusion: Studentsí°« perception vs. realityí°…, Eric Mazur and Catherine H. Crouch; í°»ConcepTests in
introductory physics: What do students get out of them?í°…; í°»Demonstrations: Education or mere
entertainment?í°…, J. Paul Callan, Catherine H. Crouch, Nan Shen, and Eric Mazur; í°»Factors that make
Peer Instruction work: A 700-user survey,í°… Adam P. Fagen, Tun- Kai Yang, Catherine H. Crouch,
and Eric Mazur, all presented at the Winter Meeting of the American Association of Physics
Teachers, Kissimmee, FL, January 2000.
10. í°»Peer Instruction: Ten Years of Experience and Results,í°… Catherine H. Crouch and Eric Mazur,
American Journal of Physics 69, 970-977 (2001).
11. í°»Peer Instruction: Results from a Range of Classrooms,í°… Adam P. Fagen, Catherine H. Crouch, and
Eric Mazur, The Physics Teacher, 40, 206-209 (2002).
12. í°»Classroom Demonstrations: Learning Tools or Entertainment?í°… Catherine H. Crouch, Adam P.
Fagen, J. Paul Callan, and Eric Mazur, American Journal of Physics, 72, 835-838 (2004).