Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Better, more effective teaching

Three links, all of them fascinating:

Harvard's Eric Mazur, writing in Science (probably behind a paywall): Farewell, Lectures? Here's his highly quote-worthy problem statement:

... [T]he lecture method [is] a process whereby the lecture notes of the instructor get transferred to the notebooks of the students without passing through the brains of either.

And here is his solution (he has a lot more about it at his website):

Since this agonizing discovery, I have begun to turn this traditional information-transfer model of education upside down. The responsibility for gathering information now rests squarely on the shoulders of the students. They must read material before coming to class, so that class time can be devoted to discussions, peer interactions, and time to assimilate and think (4). Instead of teaching by telling, I am teaching by questioning.

I now structure my time during class around short, conceptual multiple-choice questions. I alternate brief presentations with these questions, shifting the focus between instructor and students. The questions address student difficulties in grasping a particular topic and promote thinking about challenging concepts. After posing the question, I give the students 1 to 2 minutes to think, after which each must commit to an individual answer. They do this by submitting their answers using handheld devices called “clickers” (see the figure). Because of the popularity of these devices, questions posed this way are now often referred to as “clicker questions.” The devices transmit the answers to my computer, which displays the distribution of answers. If between 35% and 70% of the students answer the question correctly, I ask them to discuss their answers and encourage them to find someone in the class with a different answer. Together with teaching assistants, I circulate among the students to promote productive discussions and guide their thinking. After several minutes of peer discussion, I ask them to answer the same question again. I then explain the correct answer and, depending on the student answers, may pose another related question or move on to a different topic.

Here's Sara Rimer's report on MIT implementation of a teaching methodology called TEAL -- Technology Enhanced Active Learning.

Finally, Dan and Chuck Heath, autors of Made to Stick are offering a bunch of short articles on the book's website. One of them is titled Teaching that Sticks (requires registration, though).


  1. Anonymous said...

    kind of makes sense...IT services affecting academic teaching besides administration quality ? though don't know about increase in the energy consumption bill of the instis. I hope teachers like Mazur also go green and use slideshare and not distribute printouts of the same slides for every new batch !

  2. Anonymous said...

    here is the link to slideshare

  3. Anonymous said...

    You could do away with the clickers and just use the student notebooks if you use Virtual Clickers like this one - http://studentresponsenetwork.com - for just a tiny fraction of the price.

  4. Anonymous said...

    IT services revolutinizing academia was bound to happen with buzzwords like wikinomics and crowdsourcing. India is opening so many instis hope something is happening in the information and library services in those instis too.
    Maybe the economic downturn will help the IT sector seize this opportunity instead of just servicing the US. Wonder whether all those IIITs can be harnessed for these projects..

  5. Anonymous said...

    Sir, I do not know if the quote is originally from Prof Mazur, because I find that this quote is originally from R K Rathbun, as quoted in (R. Gilstrap and W. Martin, Current strategies for teachers, Goodyear Publishing Company, Inc., Pacific Palisades, California (1975).). I found this statement in (Electronic delivery of lectures in the university environment: An empirical comparison of three delivery styles

    Julia E. Stephensona, Clifford Browna and Darren K. Griffin in Computers and Education, Sciencedirect.com) where it was attributed to the earlier mentioned paper. Now I can not get the link to the article by Prof Mazur, so I do not know if my comment is valid or misplaced. Estremely sorry if my comment is misplaced. Kundan.

  6. Anonymous said...

    as the above commentator has mentioned, this field of study is called educational psychology and techniques. people have been studying these for ages under the so called dept. of education and sociology. what is happening is that IT/internet revolution is having its impact with its new tools of delivering/distributing information

  7. L said...

    Though the method of teaching by making the student go through the thought process is definitely a better one, I can just imagine trying it out in my BSc class. First, no one would have come with any amount of preparedness...no prior reading--never,never. Second, if I suggest an idea and ask them what they think about it, I will get deathly silence. I will repeat ...Still silence. Then one voice will slowly rise "Ma'm will this come in the exam? will it be a 5 mark question?" and then I give up and go back to my lecture mode.