It Will Never Work in Theory

Halving Fail Rates using Peer Instruction

Posted Mar 8, 2013 by Greg Wilson in education

Leo Porter, Cynthia Bailey-Lee, and Beth Simon: "Halving Fail Rates using Peer Instruction: A Study of Four Computer Science Courses". Proc. SIGCSE 2013.

Peer Instruction (PI) is a teaching method that supports student-centric classrooms, where students construct their own understanding through a structured approach featuring questions with peer discussions. PI has been shown to increase learning in STEM disciplines such as physics and biology. In this report we look at another indicator of student success—the rate at which students pass the course or, conversely, the rate at which they fail. Evaluating 10 years of instruction of 4 different courses spanning 16 PI course instances, we find that adoption of the PI methodology in the classroom reduces fail rates by a per-course average of 61% (20% reduced to 7%) compared to Standard Instruction (SI). Moreover, we also find statistically significant improvements within-instructor. For the same instructor teaching the same course, we find PI decreases the fail rate, on average, by 67% (from 23% to 8%) compared to SI. As an in-situ study, we discuss the various threats to the validity of this work and consider implications of wide-spread adoption of PI in computing programs.

This paper, which has just been presented at SIGCSE 2013 in Denver, may be one of the most significant empirical results we've ever reported. As the abstract says, a specific teaching technique can cut the failure rate in introductory classes by more than half; it also increases self-reported learner satisfaction. To find out more, check out

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