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

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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.

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(Feb 18 2011 1:38AM) : Main problem with large lectures [Edited] more
I can definitely relate to this first paragraph of how there isn’t much time/opportunity to interact with the professor. Most of the time, I’m zoning out or doodling random pictures along the borders of my notebook, and every few minutes, I would catch a supposed “key phrase” and jot that down. However, when I need to study for a midterm or a final, I end up realizing I don’t even understand many of the random words I jotted down in lecture.
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(Feb 18 2011 6:21AM) : Leave lectures not learning more

I often left large lectures feeling as though I did not learn anything. I may have taken several pages of notes, but that doesn’t mean I understood what I was writing down. Giving questions during the class, allowing the students to discuss together and then answering the question via technology is the ultimate learning experience.

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(Feb 18 2011 6:22AM) : Large lectures aren't engaging more

I attend a large institution and have been enrolled in several large lecture classes. As the weeks go on, fewer students attend these classes simply because the material isn’t engaging. When professors just lecture for an hour, there is no opportunity for students to use critical thinking skills and be actively engaged in the lecture.

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Ms. Rachel Wang (Feb 18 2011 4:44PM) : multimedia lecture more

I think lecturing with the aid of different media is really effective. Our attention span is so shot that we need constant changes to keep ourselves focused. Also, professor can make the students more engaged by breaking up in teams, and doing some in class activities, applying concept in real life situations….

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(Feb 18 2011 5:13PM) : Would teams and in class activities work for larger lectures? [Edited] more

I agree that forming teams and doing in class activities assist in making students more engaged. However, would this concept work with classes larger than 200? I think a professor would have a tough time controlling the class and making sure that students are actually participating in the activity or assignment.

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(Feb 18 2011 9:49PM) : I think behavior control isn't too much of an issue at the college level more
1. for students who want to learn, the peer discussion (comparing answers, explaining thought processes) is very very engaging. At Educause he had 400+ of us working on a basic physics problem and we were into it, though very few had science backgrounds or would have been particularly interested in the problem in any other context.

It’s very much like a NowComment exercise; the combination of intellectual engagement seeing other ways of looking at the problem, plus the social component of interacting with friends and other classmates, is very compelling!! At the conference he called “time” to stop the discussion to get on with his keynote lecture and the audience didn’t want to stop, they wanted more time to keep going!

2. If students don’t find the material engaging (don’t want to be in that class learning that material) then they probably won’t learn any less than they would"zoning out" during a long lecture.

With younger students (middle school and younger for sure, probably many high school kids) I can see some student control issues… it would be interesting to see know how this works with classes where there are behavior issues, ADHD issues, etc.
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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.

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(Feb 18 2011 1:42AM) : iClickr questions [Edited] more

At our school, we have something similar called an iClickr. I found this quite helpful since the professor can immediately make a bar graph on the number of students selecting which answer and then acknowledge possible misconceptions.

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(Feb 18 2011 6:29AM) : IClickr works well more

I’ve used IClickr in some of my classes as well. We had daily quizzes where we would input our answers electronically to the smart board, and your grade would suffer if you did poorly, meaning reading and being prepared before class was necessary.

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Ms. Rachel Wang (Feb 18 2011 4:34PM) : iclicker experience more

I used iclicker for a couple of classes as well. For professors, this is a good way to know that whether the students understand the material or not. For student, especially for those to shy to ask question in class, it’s time for them to “tell” professor that
they do or do not understand the material. I think the follow up discussion among the student is crucial.Like what Mazur did in class; he asked the student to convince each other of the “right” answers. I think it’s a effective way of learning because you will clarify the concept by explaining your reasoning to others.

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(Feb 18 2011 5:20PM) : IClickr reply bias more


Even though IClickr is a good way to have students answer questions and be engaged, what about the students who choose the answer B every time just for the fun of it? This would create bias in seeing what the class as a whole understands. In my experience, there are many students who simply don’t care for student engagement, so they act as influential outliers by choosing random answers.

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(Feb 18 2011 1:31AM) : Video comment more

I felt what the professor said at the end of the video was very key to almost any kind of learning experience, “You can forget facts but you cannot forget understanding”. That is very true and it applies to almost anything that needs to be learned. That’s why some people say that once you learn how to ride a bike, it is a skill you will have for the rest of your life no matter how long of a time that you haven’t ridden a bike.

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(Feb 18 2011 5:28PM) : Bike riding not comparable to Physics more

I don’t think learning how to ride a bike is comparable to learning a complex subject like Physics. One reason you don’t forget how to ride a bike is because not only is it cemented cognitively at a young age, but also physically; there is no physical aspect when it comes to schoolwork. Really learning and understanding theories, concepts, laws, etc., is far beyond the scope of riding a bike. We also learn how to ride a bike usually before age 10 because it is rather simple. The understanding of Physics, Calculus, Chemistry, etc., come later when our brains have matured.

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(Mar 11 2011 6:27PM) : 1:00 to 1:15 | Teach by questioning, not telling more

The question that Professor Mazur puts on the board at 1:07 is the ideal type of question, especially for a large lecture class studying physics. There is a paragraph in the beginning (with a large font size) where the first sentence explains the situation, and the second sentence actually asks the question. There is an image underneath for those who are more visual learners, and then four answers that really make a student think because essentially there are only two choices: net force and net torque. Including a net force and a net torque or neither a net force nor a net torque really forces the students to think and contemplate even more about their answer.

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(Mar 11 2011 6:34PM) : 1:21 to 1:29 | Use of technology for feedback more

As you see at 1:21, the use of an IClickr to answer the questions Mazur gives displays the use of technology for feedback. Each year, I see more and more professors converting to new technologies in order to make student feedback simpler. This process is easy for Mazur as well with the feedback results graph that is shown at 1:25. Technology allows the results to automatically be transformed into a graph, making it easier on Mazur’s part to decipher the responses in the class.

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(Mar 11 2011 6:39PM) : 1:30 to 1:39 | Creates student collaboration, debate and engagement more

Including questions during class lectures really creates collaboration among the students. When students disagree on an answer, or when neither of the students are confident in their answers, debate arises, which is healthy in a college lecture hall environment. The more students engage with each other, the more they learn from each other. Student don’t have to just learn from the professor, but can learn equally as much form their peer sitting right next to them.

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0:00  [Narrator]: Professor Eric Mazur teaches Physics at Harvard. Over the years he discovered that
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0:06  students in his Introductory Physics course were passing exams without having understood
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Ms. Rachel Wang (Feb 18 2011 4:50PM) : we often rush through class more

I often did well on the test, and forgot all the material the next day. Of course, the way the professor teaches matters, but I feel like more often, both students and the professors are under time pressure. Peer instruction take much more time than lecturing.

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(Feb 18 2011 5:33PM) : Peer collaboration is valuable more


I agree. Most classes nowadays are all about doing well on the test. I find myself memorizing pages-upon-pages of material just to put it down on paper for an hour. After the test, I essentially forget everything I “so-called” learned. Even though peer collaboration takes more time than lecturing, I think it is valuable and necessary in the college setting.

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0:11  the fundamental concepts he was trying to teach. In response to this problem, Professor
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0:16  Mazur developed a variety of interactive techniques linked to each other in ways that helped his
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0:22  students learn basic concepts far better than before.
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(Feb 18 2011 6:24AM) : Do you think your interactive techniques will work for more complex concepts and different courses?
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0:26  Requiring students to read, think, and reflect before the lecture is the first step in Professor
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(Feb 18 2011 6:26AM) : Being prepared before class is key more

For many of my classes, it is a requirement to read the chapter and lecture notes online before class in order to be prepared. I think this is critical to the learning process because if you go to class with no idea what the lecture is on, you won’t have any idea what the professor is talking about – especially with material as complex as physics. In one of my classes last semester we had daily “mini-speeches.” The professor would pull a name from a hat randomly and we would have to answer the questions he gave, and he would grade our responses out of 20 points. We had three of these throughout the semester so you never knew when you would be called. It forced me to read and be prepared before class. Reminds me of this approach.

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Ben Doernberg (Feb 18 2011 7:53AM) : Benefits of constant testing more

Recent research has indicated that the cognitive process of recalling information for a test is often the most effective way to achieve true understanding. Constantly testing and recalling information during a lecture sounds like a fantastic way to learn.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/science/21memory.html?_r=1

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0:32  Mazur's interactive process. He also uses the course web site to monitor their learning
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(Feb 18 2011 6:27AM) : Do you monitor the students learning by simply reading the questions they have on the material or is there other communication that occurs?
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(Feb 18 2011 9:52PM) : I think performance on the in-class quizzes and normal exams is the only monitoring method more

My hunch is that any questions answered after hours by the teacher are “icing on the cake”; the percentage of students who can do the problems and get the right answers (physics does have right answers, probably this method wouldn’t work well for more subjective courses!) is as good a measure of student learning as there is for this kind of class, no??

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0:37  and communicate with his students.
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0:39  [Professor Mazur]: I don't go into the classroom lecturing on what I THINK they need. No! They
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Ms. Rachel Wang (Feb 18 2011 4:52PM) : lecturing + answering question more

the way I prefer is for professor to lecture first and make the second half of class a Q&A session.

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0:46  tell me what it is that they want me to cover.
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0:48  [Female Student]: It was helpful for Professor Mazur to answer those questions that we had,
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0:54  and sometimes it didn't feel embarrassing at all if he addressed your specific question
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0:59  because the whole thing was anonymous.
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Ben Doernberg (Feb 18 2011 7:50AM) : Importance of anonymity more

I’m torn on the importance of anonymity. On the one hand, I think it definitely makes students more likely to give feedback on what they do and don’t understand.

On the other hand, I think it reinforces the sense that there’s something wrong with asking a question or not understanding material. In some cases I think a professor who respectfully says “Bill and Sarah had some issues with the density problems” is a best case scenario, as long as students understand the class process ahead of time.

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(Feb 18 2011 5:42PM) : Anonymity is the way to go with large lectures more

Wow, great point made. So do you go with more students asking questions or the non-anonymity route? It is virtually a fact, more students will ask questions if their identity isn’t made public. But I do agree that it makes it seem wrong to ask questions, but in large lectures, the professor may not even know the name of every student. So he might not have the luxury of saying “Bill and Sarah had these questions.” Anonymous seems the best choice with large lectures.

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(Feb 18 2011 9:32PM) : I think Prof. Mazur's method is especially useful in large classes where any kind of individual attention isn't an option. more

Not that it couldn’t be equally effective in small classes too… but the further away you get from 1:1 instruction the less custom instruction the teacher is able to give students. I think you question about advantages of anonymity assume there’s even the option for the teacher to know if John vs. Mary vs. the other 198 kids individually understand or don’t understand something… and I don’t think that’s really an option in really big lecture classes.

His method doesn’t require him to know if John understands it or not:

1. If John understands it, great.
2. If he doesn’t understand it (get the right answer and feel confident he knows it’s the right answer) John will work with a fellow classmate (or maybe TA outside of class) to get the right answer.

The beauty of his method is that the students (and him) know when the students do or don’t understand the material. As several of you (and he) note, it’s common for students to take notes and think they get it when they don’t… his method lets the students know if they really do or not.

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1:01  [Professor Mazur]: So the idea is to teach by questioning rather than by telling. I will
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1:07  talk a few minutes and then put on the overhead projector a question, and then I tell them,
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1:14  "Take a minute to think about it." They think about it, and after they've thought about
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1:24  it, I need to get some feedback on their answers.
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1:26  [Professor Mazur in the classroom]: So turn to your neighbor and see if you can convince
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(Feb 18 2011 6:27AM) : Do you ever give students the opportunity to answer the questions on their own instead of collaborating with their peers?
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(Feb 18 2011 9:33PM) : they do answer questions on their own; that's the first phase. more

After they answer on their own they then see if they are right and only then do they discuss the problem with peers.

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1:29  one another of the correct choice.
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1:31  [Students discussing problem in classroom]
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1:31  [Male Student in group discussion]: How do you know that?
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1:32  [Professor Mazur in the classroom to group]: And "B" is down, so the force at the bottom
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1:43  would be . . . clockwise.
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1:44  [Professor Mazur]: And in a sense this process, this engagement, this teaching by questioning
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1:51  rather than by telling, forces students to develop these models in the classroom.
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1:55  [Female Student]: I think the lectures are really good, and it works out really well,
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1:59  the idea of everyone teaching each other.
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Ms. Rachel Wang (Feb 18 2011 5:02PM) : professor needs to play the role as facilitator more

For one of the econ class I’m taking now, I spend lots of time doing problems with my classmates. We would do the question by ourselves first and meet together to discuss whichever we don’t understand. But it always turns out that after 3 hours of discussion, we still don’t know how to do it. We try to solve one problem , but we end up finding more problems, and are confused with the concept. But we don’t have the access to our professor other than the class time and a 1.5 hr office hour where tons of people asking all sorts of questions and I don’t usually get my question answered. Therefore, I think the idea of everyone teaching each other is good, but it would be better if professor could be the facilitator on the side to direct us into the right direction when we deviate

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(Feb 18 2011 5:46PM) : Teaching assistants can play a role more

You’re right. During class and office hours is not enough access to the professor. In my experiences, you have to set-up a meeting during office hours, so many times that’s not even option. What about graduate teaching assistants? I have found them very useful in helping me understand material and giving opinions on study strategies.

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(Feb 18 2011 9:37PM) : His method isn't about the teacher instructing much; it's about empowering the students to help each other. more

At Educause he explained that students who understand the material can usually do a better job of explaining it to fellow students than the teacher; the student understood it only recenlty and remembers well what the tricky parts were, what mistakes or misunderstandings they made at first themselves, etc. and can use that understanding to help their fellow students. The teacher, on the other hand, has understood the material very well for 10-50 years (;→) and the material doesn’t seem that hard…

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2:01  [Male Student]: And we soon realized that, yes, we were picking up the material faster
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2:04  than we had in the previous Physics course that we had all taken.
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2:08  [Professor Mazur]: You can forget facts, but you cannot forget understanding, and that's
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2:13  exactly what I would like to achieve here. I want them to understand the subject so that
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2:18  they know it for the rest of their life.
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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.

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My name is Cecilia. I am currently a second year at Universit… (more)

(Feb 18 2011 1:45AM) : What exactly is a Peer Instruction? more

Is Peer Instruction basically turning to your peers and asking them to clarify a certain topic? The only thing I find as a problem here is that a lot of the times, other students are just as confused and unfamiliar with the material as you are, so asking them would not be as helpful. Also, in other cases, how do the classes have enough time to lecture and discuss at the same time? In an one hour slot, our professors barely have enough time to go over the basic materials.

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George is a sophomore Communication, electronic/print journal… (more)

Feb 18
George Tillerson

George is a sophomore Communication, electronic/print journal… (more)

(Feb 18 2011 5:51PM) : Peer Instruction thoughts more

Good point. If your peers are just as confused – if not more – than you are about the material, then what would be the benefit of collaborating with them? You may hash out ideas and brainstorm, but ultimately learning and understanding the material may not occur.

There have been many times when my professors don’t get close to finishing the lecture during the given class time because of going on tangents or answering questions. So I don’t know how cutting the lecture time in half and adding time for discussion and collaboration would work.


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.

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Feb 18
Ben Doernberg (Feb 18 2011 7:55AM) : Can this be implemented piecemeal? more

I wonder how truly effective this method would be if it’s not effectively integrated with the curriculum/teaching methodology. I am a believer in this as a holistic approach, but unsure that it would be an easy/meaningful supplement to a typical lecture course.

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George is a sophomore Communication, electronic/print journal… (more)

Feb 18
George Tillerson

George is a sophomore Communication, electronic/print journal… (more)

(Feb 18 2011 5:53PM) : What do you mean by a typical lecture course?
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Feb 18
Yixin Sun (Feb 18 2011 1:02AM) : Good overall more

Sounds good. The student-discussion always works well in my philosophy class (only 15 students), but I’m not really sure about a large class, like the one in the video.

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My name is Cecilia. I am currently a second year at Universit… (more)

Feb 18
Cecilia Wong

My name is Cecilia. I am currently a second year at Universit… (more)

(Feb 18 2011 1:48AM) : Concluding Comments/questions more

I just wanted to add that I don’t understand how they have so much class time to try and reiterate the information. A lot of the methods in college has to do with self-learning and self-motivation, is this becoming a little bit too spoon fed? I don’t know how it is at Harvard, but at Berkeley, we have discussion sections where the huge lecture hall is allotted to different GSI (Graduate Student Instructors) which allows us to be able to discuss and ask questions in a smaller classroom setting.

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I’m the head/founder of Fairness.com LLC. We really hope you … (more)

Feb 18
Dan Doernberg

I’m the head/founder of Fairness.com LLC. We really hope you … (more)

(Feb 18 2011 9:41PM) : his method isn't reiterating; he saves time (and says he gets better results) by using the class time for the quiz questions and peer instruction rather than lecturing! more

You’re right, there’s no time to do both!

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George is a sophomore Communication, electronic/print journal… (more)

Feb 18
George Tillerson

George is a sophomore Communication, electronic/print journal… (more)

(Feb 18 2011 6:30AM) : Ending questions more

Instead of the questions being anonymous, is it too much trouble to have each student voice their questions and problems one-on-one (online)?

Are the questions graded, or just to help the students understand the material?

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I’m the head/founder of Fairness.com LLC. We really hope you … (more)

Feb 18
Dan Doernberg

I’m the head/founder of Fairness.com LLC. We really hope you … (more)

(Feb 18 2011 9:39PM) : As I noted above, I think 1:1 (at least most of the time) isn't an option in 200 person lecture classes
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Feb 18
Ms. Rachel Wang (Feb 18 2011 5:10PM) : here's where NowComent comes in more

I can see NowComment being a useful tool in peer instruction . The professor could post the slides or any other class material on NowComment. And student can make comment on it, either question or discussion…but I don’t knwo whether NowComment can make it anonymous tho

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George is a sophomore Communication, electronic/print journal… (more)

Feb 18
George Tillerson

George is a sophomore Communication, electronic/print journal… (more)

(Feb 18 2011 5:56PM) : NowComment use more

NowComment would work well with peer instruction. Along with lecture slides and notes, the professor could upload questions so students can discuss and collaborate with each other if they don’t understand or have questions of their own. You’re right, anonymity may be a problem though.

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