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Prof. Eric Mazur - Peer Methodology Thumbnail (multimedia)

Author: Mazur Group (Eric's team at Harvard)

One problem with conventional teaching lies in the presentation of the material. Frequently, it comes straight out of textbooks and/or lecture notes, giving students little incentive to attend class. That the traditional presentation is nearly always delivered as a monologue in front of a passive audience compounds the problem. Only exceptional lecturers are capable of holding students' attention for an entire lecture period. It is even more difficult to provide adequate opportunity for students to critically think through the arguments being developed. Consequently, lectures simply reinforce students' feelings that the most important step in mastering the material is memorizing a zoo of apparently unrelated examples.

In order to address these misconceptions about learning, we developed a method, Peer Instruction, which involves students in their own learning during lecture and focuses their attention on underlying concepts. Lectures are interspersed with conceptual questions, called ConcepTests, designed to expose common difficulties in understanding the material. The students are given one to two minutes to think about the question and formulate their own answers; they then spend two to three minutes discussing their answers in groups of three to four, attempting to reach consensus on the correct answer. This process forces the students to think through the arguments being developed, and enables them (as well as the instructor) to assess their understanding of the concepts even before they leave the classroom.

0:00  [Narrator]: Professor Eric Mazur teaches Physics at Harvard. Over the years he discovered that
0:06  students in his Introductory Physics course were passing exams without having understood
0:11  the fundamental concepts he was trying to teach. In response to this problem, Professor
0:16  Mazur developed a variety of interactive techniques linked to each other in ways that helped his
0:22  students learn basic concepts far better than before.
0:26  Requiring students to read, think, and reflect before the lecture is the first step in Professor
0:32  Mazur's interactive process. He also uses the course web site to monitor their learning
0:37  and communicate with his students.
0:39  [Professor Mazur]: I don't go into the classroom lecturing on what I THINK they need. No! They
0:46  tell me what it is that they want me to cover.
0:48  [Female Student]: It was helpful for Professor Mazur to answer those questions that we had,
0:54  and sometimes it didn't feel embarrassing at all if he addressed your specific question
0:59  because the whole thing was anonymous.
1:01  [Professor Mazur]: So the idea is to teach by questioning rather than by telling. I will
1:07  talk a few minutes and then put on the overhead projector a question, and then I tell them,
1:14  "Take a minute to think about it." They think about it, and after they've thought about
1:24  it, I need to get some feedback on their answers.
1:26  [Professor Mazur in the classroom]: So turn to your neighbor and see if you can convince
1:29  one another of the correct choice.
1:31  [Students discussing problem in classroom]
1:31  [Male Student in group discussion]: How do you know that?
1:32  [Professor Mazur in the classroom to group]: And "B" is down, so the force at the bottom
1:43  would be . . . clockwise.
1:44  [Professor Mazur]: And in a sense this process, this engagement, this teaching by questioning
1:51  rather than by telling, forces students to develop these models in the classroom.
1:55  [Female Student]: I think the lectures are really good, and it works out really well,
1:59  the idea of everyone teaching each other.
2:01  [Male Student]: And we soon realized that, yes, we were picking up the material faster
2:04  than we had in the previous Physics course that we had all taken.
2:08  [Professor Mazur]: You can forget facts, but you cannot forget understanding, and that's
2:13  exactly what I would like to achieve here. I want them to understand the subject so that
2:18  they know it for the rest of their life.

We have taught two different levels of introductory physics at Harvard using this strategy and have found that students make significant gains in conceptual understanding (as measured by standardized tests) as well as gaining problem solving skills comparable to those acquired in traditionally taught classes. Dozens of instructors at other institutions have implemented Peer Instruction with their own students and found similar results.

Peer Instruction is easy to implement in almost any subject and class.
It doesn't require retooling of entire courses or curricula, or significant expenditures of time or money. All that is required is a collection of ConcepTests (available on Project Galileo) and a willingness to spend some of class time on student discussion.

DMU Timestamp: February 09, 2011 16:15

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