Society for the Teaching of Psychology

Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

From Passive Learner to Active Participant: Examining the Effectiveness of Inter-Teaching

02 Jan 2017 5:58 PM | Anonymous

From Passive Learner to Active Participant:
Examining the Effectiveness of Inter-Teaching

Peter Frost, PhD Southern New Hampshire University

            Typically, inter-teaching requires that random pairs of students answer questions involving application, synthesis and/or critical thinking by teaching each other during a portion of class (Boyce & Hineline, 2002; Saville, et al., 2011). Generally, the professor sets up questions for each inter-teaching session. Students are expected to prepare answers to all questions since they usually don’t know which question will be used during a particular inter-teaching session. During each inter-teaching session, students are randomly assigned to dyads or triads and spend part (as in our approach) or all of class to discuss the question and write-up a response. The professor or student helpers/coaches observe the groups to help correct any misconceptions, or help answer questions through Socratic dialogue. Write-ups of each group’s responses are collected, graded, and typically handed back by the next class meeting. Some versions of inter-teaching also include a peer review process of some sort. Many versions of inter-teaching exist; we describe our version in the Methods section.
            Regardless of the variation used, inter-teaching is intended to encourage students to take ownership of their learning since they are responsible for contributing to their peer partnership and knowing the material well enough to teach it. The peer review process places additional pressure on students to know information ahead of class.
            The version of inter-teaching we used, adopted with some modification from Carroll (2011), also included the use of online practice quizzes (described in more detail in the Methods section). We designed the quizzes to ensure students knew basic and fundamental concepts ahead of each inter-teaching session, using an approach developed by Daniel and Broida (2004) described below.
             Past studies have shown that courses with inter-teaching lead to higher exam scores (Saville, et al., 2011) and greater long-term recognition memory of course concepts (Saville, Bureau, Eckenrode, Fullerton, Herbert, Maley, Porter, & Zombakis, 2014) than traditional lecture courses. We suspected that inter-teaching would facilitate intrinsic motivation. To test this, we examined whether students using inter-teaching in a section of Cognitive Psychology would find their section more stimulating and worthwhile compared to students using a traditional lecture approach in another section of Cognitive Psychology. As with past studies, we also suspected that students in the inter-teaching section would show evidence for greater learning and retention of course concepts.


            We compared two sections of Cognitive Psychology offered during the Fall 2014 semester. One section (n = 22) was randomly assigned to implement inter-teaching while a second (n = 24) implemented a lecture-based course. Both courses were taught by the same professor, covered the same content, and included the same lecture format.

Materials and Procedures

            We provided a study guide to the inter-teaching section at the beginning of the semester. A set of between two and five questions was shown for each of seven inter-teaching sessions that were conducted throughout the semester. We informed students that they had to prepare for all of the questions for each session since they would not know which question would be part of an inter-teaching session. Inter-teaching questions were designed to encourage thought, application, or synthesis.
            Each inter-teaching session ran at the beginning of class for about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the difficulty of the question. We paired students randomly, and they all received the same question. If the students had questions during the session, the teacher would use Socratic dialogue to help prompt an answer (the answer was never provided). Student pairs handed in a written response to the question based on their discussion.
            We gave the students feedback about their written response by the next class. They were also asked to fill out a peer review assessment survey made available on Blackboard.
            Students in the inter-teaching section also took an online practice quiz designed to help them master the facts needed for the inter-teaching sessions. The parameters of our online practice quizzes (based largely on the approach described by Daniel and Broida, 2004) were as follows:
  • A large number of multiple-choice items were included (40 – 100).
  • Students could re-take each quiz as often as they wanted until the due date. The highest grade achieved was recorded.
  • Questions were scrambled, as were answer choices.
  • Once logged in, students had to complete the quiz.
  • The quiz was timed.
  • Students could view only one question at a time.
  • Feedback was restricted to ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ for each item.
A Likert-like Scale survey was given at the end of the semester to assess student motivation for each section of Cognitive Psychology. The questions took on the form as follows:

                Did you find that time in class was worthwhile (circle one)?

  Not at all   0%  10%  20%  30%  40%  50%  60%  70%  80%  90%  100%  Absolutely


            Although no main effects occurred for Type of Course (Inter-Teaching versus Traditional) nor GPA (upper versus lower GPAs), ps > .05, there was a statistically significant Type of Class by GPA interaction, F(1, 42) = 4.23, p = .046. Inter-teaching appears to have improved the test scores of students in the lower 50th percentile, but not students in the upper 50th percentile.
            Across all questions about student engagement, average Likert-like scale responses associated with inter-teaching were higher than that for standard courses. Participants found that time in class was more worthwhile in the inter-teaching course (M = 82.02, SD = 5.23) than the standard course (M = 55.45, SD = 9.04). The inter-teaching course was found to be more intellectually stimulating (M = 76.25, SD = 7.00) than the standard course (M = 61.90, SD = 9.61). Participants also indicated wanting to learn more in the inter-teaching course (M = 78.66, SD = 10.01) than in the standard course (M = 65.72, SD = 11.63).  We found that the average overall score associated with the student engagement survey was higher for inter-teaching than for the lecture section, t (44) = 15.52, p = .02. Attendance was higher for IT than that for the lecture section (94% attendance on average for IT and 86% attendance for a control group).


            Our findings replicate other studies showing that inter-teaching methods and online practice quizzes can help improve exam scores (Daniel & Broida, 2004; Saville, et al., 2011; Saville, et al., 2014), but our results suggest the benefit is exclusive to students with lower GPAs. Inter-teaching did not improve test scores for higher-performing students, perhaps because their scores were closer to ceiling from the start of the semester.
            As predicted by our hypothesis, inter-teaching led to evidence of enhanced intrinsic motivation as shown by higher ratings (relative to an exclusively lecture-based course) associated with viewing the course as worthwhile and intellectually stimulating, rating the instructional method as helpful, and wanting to learn more. Moreover, inter-teaching was also associated with greater attendance.
            There are many variants of the inter-teaching method. For example, peer evaluation can either be figured into the grade or not (we did not include ratings in peer evaluations as part of the grade); some teachers choose to lend significant time to inter-teaching activities (we only had seven inter-teaching sessions over the semester between 15 and 30 minutes each). Inter-teaching is versatile enough to be adapted to course needs.
            Our inter-teaching approach had several potentially beneficial aspects, but a limitation of our study is that we did not determine the extent to which the different aspects benefited learning and motivation. Future research should analyze how different aspects and variations contribute to the effectiveness of the inter-teaching method. Our findings show that the effectiveness of inter-teaching, both with regard to improving academic performance for lower-performing students and facilitating motivation in all students, makes further research into what makes this method effective worthwhile.


Boyce, T. E., & Hineline, P. N. (2002). Interteaching: A strategy for enhancing the user-friendliness of behavioral arrangements in the college classroom. The Behavior Analyst, 25, 215–226.

Carroll, D. (2011, October). Development, application and evaluation of an 'inter-teaching' approach to learning. Paper presented at the meeting of the Northeast Conference for Teachers of Psychology, Fairfield, CT.

Daniel, D.B, & Broida, J. (2004). Using web-based quizzing to improve exam performance: Lessons learned. Teaching of Psychology, 31(3), 207-208.

Saville, B.K., Bureau, A., Eckenrode, C., Fullerton, A., Herbert, R., Maley, M., Porter, A. & Zombakis, J. (2014). Interteaching and lecture: A comparison of long-term recognition memory. Teaching of Psychology, 41(4), 325-329. DOI: 10.1177/0098628314549704

Saville, B. K., Lambert, T., & Robertson, S. (2011). Interteaching: Bringing behavioral education into the 21st century. The Psychological Record, 61, 153–165.


Peter Frost (Ph.D., Baylor University) is Professor of Psychology at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and a Steering Committee member of the New England Psychological Association. He has been a recipient of the SNHU Excellence in Teaching Award and the SNHU President’s Merit Award. He is a firm believer that undergraduate Psychology majors should collaborate with faculty on original research projects. His current projects with students focus on the effects of using mobile devices on various aspects of higher cognition. Other studies have explored how personality relates to susceptibility to false memory and how faulty reasoning can alter autobiographical memory.

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