Sam Butchart

School of Philosophy, University of Melbourne

1. What course (or courses) did you use PI in?

I have used PI in two courses:

Title: PHL1030/2030: Thinking: Analysing Arguments

Institution: Monash University

Year level: First and second year

Description: A course in critical thinking, focusing on the analysis and evaluation of real-life arguments in a variety of contexts.

Title: 12BEL: Beginning Logic

Institution: La Trobe Univeristy

Year level: First year

Description: Introductory formal logic course, covering syllogistic, fallacies, propositional logic (truth tables) and basic predicate logic.

Textbook: A Concise Introduction to Logic. Hurley. 8th edition.

2. What is the format of the course?

PHL1030: One 1-hour lecture and one 2-hour tutorial each week, for 13 weeks.

12BEL: One 2-hour lecture and one 1-hour tutorial each week, for 13 weeks.

3. Did you use PI in lectures, tutorials or both?

I use PI in every lecture and used it in one or two tutorials; if I ran out of time to ask a particular question in the lecture, I would use it in the tutorial that week. In the formal logic course, I used PI in lectures only.

4. How many questions did you use in a typical class?

In lectures I always used at least two questions and sometimes up to 5 or 6.

5. What voting mechanism do you use?

Eg. clickers (electronic response system), flash cards, show of hands.

Flash cards.

6. What are your main goals when using PI in class? What do you hope to achieve?

The main goal is to keep students interested, stop them falling asleep and give them some practice at applying the ideas I’ve been discussing in the lecture. Where possible, I’m also aiming to get students discussing and arguing about the material with each other.

7. What kinds of question do you use? What kind of questions are most effective?

Multiple-choice questions designed to give students practice at applying the concepts or techniques under discussion.I try to design the questions so that common mistakes can be elicited and then discussed in the lecture. The nice thing about PI is that because of the relatively anonymous way in which students answer questions, common mistakes can be discussed without picking on individual students.

In formal logic, I often use PI to do worked examples (for example, a truth-table for an argument) with the whole class. Here the aim is to give students some practice using the techniques, rather than to deepen understanding. But with PI, the whole class is participating as you work through the example, rather than just one or two of the brighter students.

8. What benefits do you think there are in using PI in your classes?

The students love it. It helps enormously with attention and understanding. It makes lectures much more like a dialogue or discussion, rather than a boring monologue. This makes lectures much more enjoyable for both students and the lecturer. The students seem to especially enjoy being given the opportunity to talk to each about the material in class.

9. What disadvantages do you think there are in using PI in your classes?

It does take time to write good questions. But once you’ve got a bank of these for a particular course, you can reuse them. You cannot cover as much material in lectures, but what you do cover is better understood I think. This disadvantage is, in my opinion, massively outweighed by the many benefits.

10. How do your students respond to using PI?

As noted above, the response from students is (in the vast majority of cases) very positive.

11. What do you think are the biggest challenges to using PI effectively?

The biggest challenge is to write good questions, with good distractors (incorrect multiple-choice responses) so there is enough initial disagreement to get a good discussion going. With PI, the students have much more control over what happens in the lecture than is usual; the pace and focus of the lecture changes according to how students are responding to the questions. The second biggest challenge is to be able to adapt to this more flexible teaching style and not to worry too much about ‘running out of time’ or ‘not getting through the material’.

12. What advice would you give to someone thinking of using PI in their teaching?

You should definitely try it out. It’s very easy to start, just by incorporating one or two questions into a few of your lectures. I think you’ll find that the students will get a lot out of it and so will you.

Further information