Peer Instruction Online Update

I really like Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction technique. You can read about how I have used it in a face-to-face environment here:

Original Peer Instruction Blog Post

This instructional technique increases student engagement (they ask if they have a question for the day when they come in!), allows them to practice their argumentation skills (Science Practice 6, Argumentation), and can increase understanding of the basic concepts. 

The basic sequence is 

1. Project an interesting multiple choice conceptual (or maybe semi-quantitative) question

2. Students answer individually (no discussion) and anonymously

3. Students view a graph of the class’s responses

4. Students discuss with each other how they responded and why. They try to reach consensus with their discussion partners.

5. Students answer the same question again.

6. The class views the responses and the teacher leads a consensus-building discussion

The way I have used it, Peer Instruction depends on students discussing face-to-face, but how do you do that with a hybrid or online environment?

One short answer is that you can do this with This is an add-on to Google Slides. It allows you to add many types of questions to a Google Slide. The students join a Pear Deck session, view the question, and enter their responses. You can then show the graph of student responses from Pear Deck, and go through the sequence above. You need to have made a slide show with the same multiple choice question in it twice. Here is an example of a Pear Deck Slide show for a Paul Hewitt Next-Time Question.

If you don’t want to use Pear Deck, or you want to try and get the effect of Peer Instruction asynchronously, I did read about a way to use Peer Instruction online without live interaction. In The Physics Teacher journal online, I read this article, Peer Tutoring in Web-based Concept Tests. The authors used LON-CAPA to collect student justifications along with their responses. Instead of interacting live, the students can view other’s justifications.

A modification of this involves providing simulated interactions. You would present the multiple choice question, have students answer, then have them view student statements about the question and the choices. Then, after the simulated interaction, they vote again. 

Here is the Paul Hewitt Next-time question that is embedded in the “Original Peer Instruction Blog Post” referenced above:

Below are a few “student” statements I wrote to go with the question, based on my memory of how this discussion typically goes.

“The scale reads zero, because the forces on the string from each side are in opposite directions and cancel out.”

“The scale reads 100 N because the string has to hold up the 100 N weight on each side.”

“I know the objects are at rest, but it seems like each object has an effect on the scale, so I guess 200 N.”

“The scale reads 200 N because the string has to hold up two 100 N objects.

“If the scale read 200 N, wouldn’t that mean that a 100 N weight was flying upwards?”

“The scale can’t read zero because we know if you touch the string there is tension in it, right?”

Please share thoughts on using Peer Instruction in the Virtual/Hybrid Classroom in the comments.

About marcreif

I live and teach high school physics in the town I was born in, Fayetteville, Arkansas. My professional interests include modeling instruction and Advanced Placement courses. I also work as a College Board Workshop Consultant, which means I lead Pre-AP and AP Science Teacher workshops. Lately I've also been leading a fair amount of student review sessions for the National Math and Science Initiative. I have a website for students ( and another for AP Summer Institute participants ( I tweet infrequently (@marcreif).
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