Source: KQED Mindshift, Sep 2011
Mazur now teaches all of his classes using a “peer-instruction” approach. Rather than teaching by telling, he teaches by questioning. Mazur says it’s a particularly effective way to teach large classes.
Here’s how he does it: Before each class, students are assigned reading in the textbook. Pretty standard for a lecture class, but if you talk to college students you’ll find that many of them don’t bother with the reading ahead of time. They come to class to figure out what information the professor thinks is important, then they go to the textbook to read up on what they didn’t understand.
“In my approach I’ve inverted that,” says Mazur.
What Mazur has found over nearly 20 years of using peer instruction is that many more students choose the right answer after they have talked with their peers. And it’s not because they’re blindly following their neighbor’s lead. By the end of the semester, students have a deeper understanding of the fundamental concepts of physics than they did when Mazur was just lecturing. Students end up understanding nearly three times as much now, measured by a widely-used conceptual test.
In addition to having a deeper grasp of concepts, students in Mazur’s classes are better at solving conventional physics problems, despite the fact that Mazur no longer spends class time at the board doing problems. He says this shows something that may seem obvious.
“If you understand the material better, you do better on problem-solving,” Mazur says. “Even if there’s less of it done in class.”
Peer instruction has proven effective in a range of subjects from psychology to philosophy.
He expects students to familiarize themselves with the information beforehand so that class time can be spent helping them understand what the information means.
American Radioworks, “The Problem with Lecturing”