Peer Instruction for the New Age

School today is a much different place from 2002. Thinking back to my public school experience. We had very few computers, instructors used over-head projectors, and technology was still evolving. My six-year-old son knows more about Apple products than his grandmother. He teaches  her how to use certain apps and games. I often wondered if I would set stricter limits on his technology use. When he was in pre-school we used to get weekly newsletters from his teacher. One of them focused on the use of technology and children. The newsletter stated children should only be exposed to 30 minutes of technology on a daily bases. I wondered if this fact was outdated. When I watched my son play learning games, he learns so quick and he is engaged.  My son is autistic, so technology may be easier for him to process then human expression. I often wondered what practical skills my son could learn from technology and learning apps. And how we can recreate his engagement in the classroom. After reviewing this week’s resources it seems it is possible.

Seedy-Brown discusses technology and what it is capable of teaching to new students. Students who are literate in the technological world can navigate wealths of information in short periods of time. The internet allows us to have access to more information than ever before. And this article also discusses the possible skills people can acquire from gaming. Strategic planning, evaluation, program development, and daily maintenance are all necessary skills in order to be a successful leader in gaming. I really appreciated this article articulating the skills acquired through gaming. I knew gaming taught participants, I just couldn’t make the connection to education and practical learning.

Mazur’s Peer Instruction model allows students to reflect on their own learning then engage with other students about the concepts being discussed in class. The students then reach consensus on what they believe to be the correct answer. This process allows students to think about their argument, articulate their argument and assess the concepts with other students. I believe this method to be built from the constructivist theory. The learners are interpreting their own response to the knowledge, they observe what other students claim to be their own personal reality, and they apply their knowledge when they have to defend their argument.

As I was watching one of the Youtube videos I was reflecting on my own learning. He asked the students to think of something they are really good at, then to think about how they learned it. When he asked the students if they learned this thing they are really good at in a lecture – no one raised their hand. It made me think of how I learned what I am really good at. It wasn’t in a lecture. I learned by experiencing it and living it. When I listen to lectures, I take notes, and ask questions. But I don’t become fully confident in the information presented. Learning does not work that way. So then I wondered, why do we teach this way? He also made a clear point when he said, your mind is being held captive during lectures. When I give lectures in my classes, I am able to see when students tune out. They are only able to listen for so long in one class session. So I try to reengage them by asking questions. But after listening to Mazur I realize disengagement may not be the only issue here. It may be a symptom of a larger issue, which is the methodology we chose to use.

Learning in the 21st century has to engage technology. There is no way around it. The generations coming up, like my son, are going to have the capabilities to learn more about technology than ever before. I think limiting their technology use to 30 minutes a day may be too much. When I see how much he can learn from technology, I see possibilities. The Framework for 21st Century Student Outcomes include content knowledge, innovation skills, information technology, and life skills. These goals align with Mazur’s Peer Instruction in that it uses technology and allows students to think critically about the concepts discussed in class. I only saw one  example of the Peer Instruction and it didn’t link the concepts learned in class to real-world situations. One goal for the 21st Century Students Framework is real-world practical skills. Students need to learn how to navigate the outside world. That was not shown in the videos I watched. It doesnt mean Mazur is lacking in these areas, I just didn’t see them.

3 thoughts on “Peer Instruction for the New Age

  1. Hi Lexie,

    Nice work! I don’t know about 30 minutes a day. Seems a rather arbitrary number. I suppose that response is in reaction to many who allow kids to spend hours and hours consumed with devices in less than engaging learning environments? How many hours can one play Angry Birds per day and reap educational benefits? The answer to so many things is that it depends. Speaking for myself, my daughter was fond of the Nancy Drew series of adventure games. She still quotes little passages of history or snippets of geography from those narratives. Some days she spent more than 30 minutes, certainly – to no great ill effect (or at least I tell myself that).

    For the 21st Century Student Framework, maybe real-world practical skills can be learned as in the the surfing video by John Seely-Brown? Small communities of like minded individuals practicing, failing and learning in close proximity? But then, is that any different than in any century before?

  2. “So then I wondered, why do we teach this way?…When I give lectures in my classes, I am able to see when students tune out.”

    Sigh. Call me old fashioned, but I WANT to love the lecture. I don’t really give them, because I acknowledge their inefficacy, but part of me wants to reject this whole “students building their own learning” thing because I can’t divorce myself from the idea that there is a significant amount of basic information that people need. In order to MAKE SURE that information is covered, telling it to them seems like a good way to go about things. It’s the basic mode of human communication: talking and listening. It sounds like such a good fundamental concept. I want it to work. Why is it that YouTube videos, which are basically flashy lectures, seem so popular? Hmm.

    I also spent more than 30 minutes a day as a child on computers. I was very fond of the ClueFinders series, a story-based educational adventure game similar (I think) to Nancy Drew, as Owen mentioned. Kids learn a lot but don’t “know” they’re learning. I loved it. I have no idea what effects that had on my eyesight, attention span, or sitting posture, though. Sort of basic things that go unmentioned often. Do you feel as though your son is learning a lot in his iPad apps? I’ve no idea what’s available for students of that age, but I agree with Owen that 30 minutes seems arbitrary, but it obviously depends on what exactly is being done.

  3. I also got to thinking when I came to “So then I wondered, why do we teach this way?”
    I thought…good question! Then I thought of ted talks, which are lectures and how popular they have become. People listen to those lectures voluntarily and without compulsion. They post them for friends so they can discuss them. What on earth is the difference? Why is public opinion of one so negative and the other so positive when they are really the same thing? But then I thought, perhaps its because they weren’t made for the same reason.

    Maybe its because they aren’t meant to convey everything about a particular subject, but just to get people thinking about ideas. They inspire interest on a topic. They get people excited enough about a topic to start looking deeper and find out more on their own. Maybe the problem isn’t with the lecture, but with goal of the lecture.

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