Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Science-Education Innovator Will Bring Methods to U.Va. in April

Harvard University physics professor Eric Mazur has said he’s less interested in teaching than in helping students learn – making a subtle distinction between the two. He will visit the University of Virginia April 11 and 12 to give a presentation and workshop about “peer instruction,” a method for teaching large lecture classes interactively.

His talk, “The Tyranny of the Lecture,” is free and open to the public, and will take place April 11 at 4 p.m. in Nau Hall Auditorium. His April 12 workshop for U.Va. instructors requires registration and will be held from 9 a.m. to noon in Rouss & Robertson Hall, room 403.

Despite a growing amount of research that shows students don’t gain or retain much knowledge and understanding from large lectures, the longstanding format persists at universities. Like many other scientists, Mazur has also said that better science education for all – not just science majors – is vital for continued scientific progress and for society.

Twenty years ago, he began developing “peer instruction,” which encourages and makes use of student interaction during lectures, while focusing students’ attention on a subject’s underlying concepts and techniques. Mazur’s teaching method has attracted interest nationally and internationally, and it has been adopted across several science and mathematics disciplines.

The method has been assessed in many studies using standardized diagnostic tests and shown to be considerably more effective than the conventional lecture approach to teaching.

With the advent of new technology, the process can be significantly improved, Mazur said. A new data analytics-driven audience-response system does away with multiple-choice questions and helps instructors design better questions, manage time and process flow, and optimizes the discussions in the classroom.

An internationally recognized scientist and researcher, Mazur leads a vigorous research program in optical physics. He also devotes part of his research group’s effort to education research and finding verifiable ways to improve science education.

He has published “Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual,” and helped produce an award-winning DVD on interactive teaching.

Mazur’s visit is sponsored by the Page-Barbour Lectures and co-hosted by the departments of chemistry and physics in the College of Arts & Sciences and the Teaching Resource Center.

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