Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


First Advisor

Allen Steckelberg

Date of this Version



Vondruska, J.A. (2017). The influence of previous subject experience on interactions during peer instruction: A mixed methods analysis(Doctoral dissertation).


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Allen Steckelberg. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2017.

Copyright (c) 2017 Judy A. Vondruska


Over the past decade, peer instruction and the introduction of student response systems has provided a means of improving student engagement and achievement in large-lecture settings. While the nature of the student discourse occurring during peer instruction is less understood, existing studies have shown student ideas about the subject, extraneous cues, and confidence level appear to matter in the student-student discourse. Using a mixed methods research design, this study examined the influence of previous subject experience on peer instruction in an introductory, one-semester Survey of Physics course. Quantitative results indicated students in discussion pairs where both had previous subject experience were more likely to answer clicker question correctly both before and after peer discussion compared to student groups where neither partner had previous subject experience. Students in mixed discussion pairs were not statistically different in correct response rates from the other pairings. There was no statistically significant difference between the experience pairs on unit exam scores or the Peer Instruction Partner Survey. Although there was a statistically significant difference between the pre-MPEX and post-MPEX scores, there was no difference between the members of the various subject experience peer discussion pairs. The qualitative study, conducted after the quantitative study, helped to inform the quantitative results by exploring the nature of the peer interactions through survey questions and a series of focus groups discussions. While the majority of participants described a benefit to the use of clickers in the lecture, their experience with their discussion partners varied. Students with previous subject experience tended to describe peer instruction more positively than students who did not have previous subject experience, regardless of the experience level of their partner. They were also more likely to report favorable levels of comfort with the peer instruction experience. Students with no previous subject experience were more likely to describe a level of discomfort being assigned a stranger for a discussion partner and were more likely to report communication issues with their partner. Most group members, regardless of previous subject experience, related deeper discussions occurring when partners did not initially have the same answer to the clicker questions.

Advisor: Allen Steckelberg