Listening to student conversations during clicker questions: what you don’t hear may surprise you!

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When instructors provide time for students to discuss their ideas in Peer Instruction, instructors minimally expect that the conversation partners will discuss their opinions relating to the physical attributes posed in a question and submit clicker responses that coincide with individual opinions. We defined conversations that met these two criteria as “standard conversations.” In our study of 361 recorded Peer Instruction conversations from large introductory astronomy classrooms taught by experienced instructors, we found that 38% of student conversations were standard conversations. Of the remaining 62%, we identified three broad categories consisting of ten types of “nonstandard” conversations. The first category of conversations describes student ideas that were not reflected in any of the given multiple choice answers. The second category includes issues related to the interpretation of the statistical feedback provided by electronic classroom response systems. The third category describes common pitfalls experienced by students during conversations that led to unproductive interactions. Our analysis of nonstandard Peer Instruction conversations will be useful to practitioners and researchers seeking to improve the implementation of Peer Instruction.




James, Mark C., and Shannon Willoughby. “Listening to Student Conversations During Clicker Questions: What You Have Not Heard Might Surprise You!” American Journal of Physics 79, no. 1 (2011): 123. doi:10.1119/1.3488097.
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