Susannah Kate Devitt (mnemosynosis) wrote,
Susannah Kate Devitt

Peer learning in Lectures

Slide from Eric Mazur's lecture, "Confessions of a Converted Lecturer"[.pdf]

On Thursday 14th January I attended a lecture "Confessions of a Converted Lecturer"[.pdf], by physicist and learning pioneer, Eric Mazur at the University of Queensland. Mazur says:
I thought I was a good teacher until I discovered my students were just memorizing information rather than learning to understand the material. Who was to blame? The students? The material? I will explain how I came to the agonizing conclusion that the culprit was neither of these. It was my teaching that caused students to fail! I will show how I have adjusted my approach to teaching and how it has improved my students' performance significantly.

Mazur came from a typical teaching environment where scientists communicate to students in big lecture theatres, deliver material dryly from the text book and write examples on the blackboard. He found that students maintain their Aristotelian intuitions, even after a year of physics education. Somehow this system was not helping students understand the conceptual framework of Newtonian physics, only teaching them how to solve a narrow range of problems in a constrained format. Mazur also found that just because students enjoy a class and give terrific evaluations, does not mean they have successfully absorbed the material.

He began to consider what teachers need to do to really help students learn. He decided that information transfer was no longer a key part of the lecturer’s role. Unlike learning environments before the Gutenberg press, information today is easily available in a variety of formats, styles and interactivity. Mazur shifted his energies away from presenting information in his lectures, to assimilating information already encountered by students.

Mazur looked to teaching in the humanities, where lecturers expect students to have read Shakespeare before a lecture discussing the significance of the text. He began expecting students to arrive at physics lectures already having attempted to learn the material for the week. This way, instead of regurgitating information from the text book, he was able to focus on an in-depth analysis of the concepts being introduced. Helping students configure mental models of the scientific concepts encouraged true comprehension and understanding.

However, the true turning-point came when Masur enabled peer learning within the lecture. With the help of clickers, Masur was able to improve conceptual understanding through student engagement. His peer instruction technique works in the following way:
1. Ask a question
2. Students think about an answer
3. Students ‘click’ their answer in.
4. Peer discussion
5. Students submit a revised answer.
6. Explanation

He found that students learnt more thoroughly by teaching each other and articulating their own perspective in class. These techniques have helped both low-achieving students and high-achieving students to improve their exam results. In addition, better conceptual understanding has enabled students to be better problem-solvers.

Further resources:

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