Syllabus Advice

Make Peer Instruction a required, “important” part of the course

You might feel uncomfortable about this, especially the first time. But it’s really important. The entire Peer Instruction process is work for the students. It is work for them to prepare by reading (or whatever) before class. It’s WORK for students to be so engaged in class. You need to send the signal that this work is both worth their time and valuable to them. Whether we like it or not, in the US, in education value is indicated by points towards a grade. Making PI work worth points gives students the excuse to make the time in their schedules to do the work you need them to do.

Recommended: 5-10% “reading” quizzes, 5-10% “clicker use” in class.

Points for correctness or participation?

In general, it is recommended that students get points for participating, not that they have to get PI questions correct to get their points (this refers to the “discussion questions”, not the “quiz” questions which you may choose to give using clickers at the beginning of class).

Note: To help students differentiate this, I put a red “border” (box) around the outside of “quiz” questions, which come at the very beginning of class, don’t have discussion, and which they have to “get right” to get points.

However, when I taught a large, required, non-majors course, after the first term I required students to get at least 50% of questions correct in any given session in order to get their participation points. Since about 30-70% of students get questions right in the solo vote, and they have their team for the group vote, this seemed to be non-stress inducing but avoided slackers bringing down the team.

Recommended: You must click in at least 80% of the time during the term to get your “clicker” points (this 80% avoids the “funeral” disucssions).

Do I need to make any other syllabus changes because of PI?

One possible consideration is reducing existing levels of “assessment”. You are now asking students to do quite a bit more work for the course (reading, really “learning” in class). You might find you want to reduce the quantity or frequency of some other forms of assessment (e.g. traditional quizzes or multiple mid-terms, written assignments?). Just remember, you are giving them LOTS of detailed feedback now, in class, about how they are doing. So, consider if that is still needed, or needed as much.

Be pre-emptive: Academic Integrity and “clickers”

On whatever day you cover academic integrity (best advice is not to do it the first day, but second day is good), hand out a specific academic integrity policy for YOUR course, with something like the additions marked in yellow on this sample academic integrity agreement. (BTW, UCSD students say they appreciate it when instructors explicitly talk about academic integrity – and provide course-specific, clear guidelines).  Explicitly state to students that a) clicking someone else’s clicker is just like taking a quiz for someone else and b) you are giving them points for coming and clicking in (both for the preparation quiz and the discussion questions) because you know that this process is beneficial for their learning.   Remind them that as instructor for the course, your responsibility is to support their learning most effectively (which you are doing through Peer Instruction) AND to ensure that students who honestly do the work get the credit for it.  You will report anyone who would cheat by clicking in for someone else, because it’s your responsibility to maintain fairness in grading — and it’s not fair for people to get clicker points they didn’t personally earn. (Framing academic integrity as an issue of upholding *fairness* has seemed to be a positive framing for students.)

Help students understand expected classroom behavior

Especially in large classes, I often distribute a social responsibility agreement end of Week 2.  This is modeled on the academic integrity agreement.  I do this because, often, by the end of Week 2 students are really enjoying their discussions, and sometimes don’t want to stop discussing when it’s time for the class-wide discussion.  This is distracting to me and hinders other students from hearing what is going on (though incredibly awesome that they are so engaged!).  I explain to students that, since I have completely changed the expected classroom “culture” and procedures, that it’s only fair to be clear on what my expectations are for their activity in the classroom.  I explain that, although Peer Instruction can be fun and it’s great for them to get highly involved in discussion, there is a process (you can show the PI flowchart) and there are times we can be loud and times we need to be quiet.  Again, I point out my responsibility as the instructor to provide a fair learning environment for everyone.  The key points of the social responsibility agreement are:

  • Maintain a quiet and respectful manner in which to listen to the professor and allow others to listen to the professor
  • Maintain a quiet and respectful manner in which to listen to other students’ questions and answers in a whole-class discussion
  • Exercise my social responsibility to notify others around me when they are disrupting the course through non-adherence to the statements above