The art of teaching redefined

Despite the best efforts of teachers and lecturers students often fail to grasp simple concepts.

According to Eric Mazur, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University, students need more than a good presentation to understand new ideas.

Like most educators Mazur began his career by imitating his predecessors. He lectured his students in much the same way as the men and women who had taught him.

After years of lecturing Mazur came to the realization that his style of teaching was not bringing the desired results.

“It took actually quite a while to find out that my award-winning lecturing was not really accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish.”

During one particular lesson Mazur discovered some simple and effective ways of helping students learn new material.

A traditional approach

Traditionally the focus of teaching is to impart facts. But according to Mazur, “education is not just the transfer of information.”

Education truly takes place when students can understand and apply the principles they learn in class.

So how can teachers ensure genuine education occurs in their classrooms?

The power of peer instruction

Mazur advocates the practice of peer instruction to accomplish this goal.

In this model students teach one another the concepts that they have recently learned.

The idea is that students are more aware of the challenges involved in learning new content and as a result are better able to communicate new ideas to their fellow classmates.

Private study

As part of this process students are expected to read their textbooks or review new concepts on their own before they enter the classroom.

This increases class participation as more time is spent discussing key concepts rather than passively listening to a lecture.

Teaching through questioning

Mazur also encourages educators to “teach by questioning”. Asking questions and allowing students time to discuss their answers ensures that students think through difficult concepts and reach a deeper understanding.

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By Cindy Payle - Portal Publishing