Previously I blogged about a study of the use of clickers, or personal response systems, in the classroom and how a study had shown that students who used clickers earned exam scores that were 10% higher than students who didn't use them.
A new report, published in Science, by M. K. Smith et al, at the University of Colorado, demonstrates that the effectiveness of clickers can be greatly enhanced by having students discuss the questions, and their answers, in peer groups in class.
The study used a class of 350 undergraduate Science students, who were asked an average of 5 clicker questions per class. The students first had to answer a question individually and were then invited to discuss the question with their peers. Following the discussion, they could re-cast their answer. Unsurprisingly, the number of correct answers increased. However, when asked a second, similar question, the average number of correct, individual answers also increased. It appears that students learned from the peer discussion.
Moreover, students reported that "having someone in the group who knows the correct answer is unnecessary". The opportunity for peer discussion allows the group to explore the concepts and arrive at an understanding constructively.
While this doesn't tell us anything new about the power of peer discussion in the classroom, it does suggest how we can enhance the use of personal response systems.