Monday, January 5, 2009

Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions

Smith MK, Wood WB, Adams WK, Wieman C, Knight JK, Guild N, Su TT.

Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.

When students answer an in-class conceptual question individually using clickers, discuss it with their neighbors, and then revote on the same question, the percentage of correct answers typically increases. This outcome could result from gains in understanding during discussion, or simply from peer influence of knowledgeable students on their neighbors. To distinguish between these alternatives in an undergraduate genetics course, we followed the above exercise with a second, similar (isomorphic) question on the same concept that students answered individually. Our results indicate that peer discussion enhances understanding, even when none of the students in a discussion group originally knows the correct answer.

This study suggests that discussion among students in a class can have an important effect on the understanding of difficult concepts, even when no one in the discussion group initially knows the answer. In fact, around half of the students participating in the study reported that having someone in the group who knows the correct answer is unnecessary for the discussion to be productive.