Skip to main content

Combining Peer Discussion with Instructor Explanation Increases Student Learning from In-Class Concept Questions

CU icon
Type: Article
Author(s): M.K. Smith, W.B. Wood, K. Krauter, and J.K. Knight
Published: CBE Life Sci Educ., 2011
View PDF


Use of in-class concept questions with clickers can transform an instructor-centered “transmissionist” environment to a more learner-centered constructivist classroom. To compare the effectiveness of three different approaches using clickers, pairs of similar questions were used to monitor student understanding in majors’ and nonmajors’ genetics courses. After answering the first question individually, students participated in peer discussion only, listened to an instructor explanation only, or engaged in peer discussion followed by instructor explanation, before answering a second question individually. Our results show that the combination of peer discussion followed by instructor explanation improved average student performance substantially when compared with either alone. When gains in learning were analyzed for three ability groups of students (weak, medium, and strong, based on overall clicker performance), all groups benefited most from the combination approach, suggesting that peer discussion and instructor explanation are synergistic in helping students. However, this analysis also revealed that, for the nonmajors, the gains of weak performers using the combination approach were only slightly better than their gains using instructor explanation alone. In contrast, the strong performers in both courses were not helped by the instructor-only approach, emphasizing the importance of peer discussion, even among top-performing students.


Freely Available


I³: Towards a Center for STEM Education