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Published March 1, 2019 | Physics

A Tech-Cautious Teacher Successfully Experiments with PeerWise in Physics Class

Behi Fatholahzadeh has taught Physics at Marianopolis College for 7 years. She admits that she never really liked the idea of going before the class right before the mid-term exam and somehow summarizing the entire content then taking 3 questions. She was looking to be more effective with the mid-term review classes. At the PeerWise worshop at Saltise in 2018 (the object of an article in Profweb), she discovered a tool that might be able to help.

Overall, she really loved PeerWise:

  • Students create their own multiple-choice questions and have to justify the correct answer.
  • Students have opportunity to communicate their thoughts to their peers using their own language.
  • Students are more engaged when explaining concepts to peers.

Behi says she is a rather cautious person. She prefers to discover ways for the tool to expand her previous practice, rather than replace it. She decided to use Peer Wise for one activity during the session: a mid-term review activity in class. Also she didn’t want this activity to add to the students’ workload so it was done in class.

I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, so I just wanted to dip my toes and slowly incorporate it into my teaching. That’s why I thought of using it as a mid-term review activity.

Behi Fatholahzadeh, Teacher

Plan for using tool to improve mid-term review

  • Two weeks before the mid-term, she goes through all her slides, all her work and creates a list of topics or concepts, one for each student in her class. This session she had 33 topics because she had 33 students in her Electricity and Magnetism Class.
  • She assigns each student a topic for them to create one multiple-choice question.
  • This review activity is diverse; it covers all of the topics in preparation for mid-term.
  • With the list, students see technically what is required of them for the mid-term.
  • This clarifies things for everyone, for the students and for the teacher because she has just made a list of 33 concepts.

Attribution: Mouad Gaamouch

Issues during the 1st trial

In the fall of 2018 Behi experimented this strategy for the first time. Students were given an hour to upload their question and then practice by answering each other’s questions. She left the forum open in case some wanted to do more questions later on at home.

As she was helping students do the activity, she realised there were a lot of mistakes in the questions. After class, she logged on and commented on all the questions that needed clarification. She wasn’t sure if all the students saw her comments. She worried that some students would only read the explanation left by the creator of the question and accept it as it is, perpetuating the misconceptions.

Additionally, some students faced challenges learning to use the new tool. Thus,

not all the students had the same amount of time to do the review activity with PeerWise after they had finished uploading their own questions.

The second time around

Behi made some adjustments and improvements and is now reusing the tool.

This time to avoid any possible perpetuating of misconceptions, she asked students to hand in their questions along with the diagrams beforehand. Without modifying questions, she pointed out the mistakes before they uploaded their question to Peer Wise.

Attribution: Pixabay

This was a really good step to add. She asked those students who had errors to leave their question as is, in a sense that there may be other students who have the same issue. She wanted to target that issue, but in the explanations to really give the correct answer. That way the students who are also having difficulty could see the correct answer.

All things considered…

  • The first session she used the tool Behi felt a little unsure. What if her students who were struggling had their misconceptions even more confirmed after doing this review activity? The second time she controlled the activity a little more closely by including a feedback mechanism. She was more confident that review activity met her goals.
  • The questions produced were amazing. Some students are all about the competition; they are really imaginative and can create some rather challenging questions.
  • The students reacted very positively to this tool. In fact it is rather addictive, like a game and many students didn’t want to get up and leave at the end of class.

Give Yourself the Time to Learn

Attribution: rawpixel.com

Behi found it was really easy to set up a course in PeerWise. With all of the logistics of setting up this type of activity in class, she recommends that teachers log in as a student and to try it out beforehand. Try putting a question in and uploading some pictures.

PeerWise is very user friendly, she discovered. She hasn’t explored all of the tool’s potential, stating she is only at the tip of the iceberg! However, she feels ready to use the tool in the context it was meant to be used in: to create a bank of questions covering all of the content of the course. She could abandon the idea of only using it for a midterm review activity and have the forum open all session long. She would possibly assign different topics and give deadlines. Students would constantly contribute and constantly answer questions from other students throughout the session. They could even benefit from answering questions that were created by students from previous sessions.

Initially, Behi wasn’t sure how the tool would work and needed to become comfortable with the tool. She used an excellent strategy for tech-cautious teachers, she gave herself permission to learn and experiment with the tool before she committed more fully!

We would love to hear about the process you used to integrate technology in your classroom. Please leave a comment or email the author.

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