Peer Instruction

So for the second half of IST 663, we’re shifting from discussing educational theorists to discussing effective teaching and learning techniques.  For the next few weeks, I’ll be talking about peer instruction and how it can be used in lessons in the library.

So what is peer instruction?  It might not be what you’re thinking.  Peer instruction moves away from the traditional lecture method to help students get more involved in their own learning.  Developed by Professor Eric Mazur at Harvard University during the 1990s, peer instruction makes learning more interactive and helps students to become more engaged in what is going on. [1]

In a class using peer instruction, there will usually still be a short lecture.  Then, students will be given a question or problem to work on, and will report their answer to the professor (either electronically, for example via clickers, or just on a piece of paper).  After this, students will work in pairs and try to convince their partners that they have the correct answer.  Following this, they will report their answers again to the professor. [2]

Using peer instruction helps students to really understand the underlying concepts of the material they are learning, it makes learning more interactive and engaging, and helps students develop oral communication skills.  Students, in effect, become the teachers, and in some cases are able to fill this role more effectively than their actual teachers, because they so recently figured out the concepts themselves, and better understand what might be troublesome to their classmates. [3]

While peer instruction was developed at Harvard and has been used frequently in college classes, I think there is also a place for peer instruction in the library.  More on that in future posts.


1. Redish, E.F. (2006). Peer instruction problems: Introduction to the method. Retrieved from

2. The George Washington University Teaching & Learning Collaborative. (n.d.) Peer Instruction: Eric Mazur’s Techniques. Retrieved from

3. Lambert, C. (2012). Twilight of the lecture. Retrieved from

4 thoughts on “Peer Instruction

  1. Alison,
    You’re right – peer instruction isn’t what I thought it was! I thought it was any time the teacher uses a student to teach material to another student. I see now that it’s something that is still controlled by the teacher, in that the teacher gives the students the question or problem to work on. It seems like it would be a great technique for inquiry teaching and learning.

  2. I really like the idea of peer instruction. I remember when I was in high school I loved hearing from fellow groups of students rather than listening to the teacher talk or lecture for the entire class period. I think students becoming the teacher is also a good way to see if they are understanding the material, what better way to show this than by teaching said material to the class. I think students of all ages can really thrive off of working with peers so I can think of no better way to do this than through peer instruction. Great post!

  3. Alison,

    Thanks for sharing more about peer instruction. There seems to be a variety of ways that students can understand and make sense of the information. Starting with the short lecture, individually, and with a partner. It is engaging for students as they are the ones sharing what they’ve learned. As you mention, it is a great way to work on collaborative skills, presentation skills, and by convincing their partner of an answer, learning how to identify their reasoning behind their answer. Not only this, but it can help build confidence by giving the students the authority for instruction and to “be the teacher.” With fixed library schedules sometimes lasting 30 minutes, I can see how this technique would be effective to not only assess if students are understanding the concepts in a short amount of time (by having to check in, explain their reasoning, and instruct their peers), and create an interactive way for students to learn the material.

    Lisa U.

  4. Alison,

    Thank you for this very interesting blogpost! I never fully understood what peer instruction meant, and this was a really fascinating teaching technique to read about. It seems as though students would be very engaged and motivated by a lesson that incorporates peer instruction, as students would have conviction behind what they are doing. I also imagine that peer instruction increases students’ confidence levels and show them the value of their opinions. I also think that having to present their ideas to peers would be a constructive exercise for students.

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