I thought I was a good teacher
"I thought I was a good teacher until I discovered my students were just memorizing information rather than learning to understand the material," says Mazur. "Who was to blame? The students? The material?" In this presentation below from 2009 entitled "Confessions of a Converted Lecturer," Mazur explains how he came to the conclusion that "It was my teaching that caused students to fail!" If you have the time I recommend that you watch the entire presentation (over one hour in length). However, there is a rough edit of the same presentation that is still fairly good at getting Mazur's key points across in just 18 minutes. Watch the abridged version here on Youtube.
Dr. Mazur's approach: (1) Students read the notes and appropriate section of books, etc. before coming to class. "I am not going to lecture on the notes anymore," Mazur says. (2) In the classroom what matters is going deeper. "What's important is depth not coverage." The pre-assigned readings take care of the coverage, but class time offers the chance to go deeper and spend time on those parts that were most difficult for students. This depth, says Mazur, is not obtained through telling but by using a more Socratic method of asking good questions.
The two main features of the peer instruction approach is that (1) there is active engagement in the classroom. "It's impossible to sleep in class because every few minutes your neighbor will start talking to you." And (2) there is continuous information flow back and forth with the student and teacher and also between students. What about solving the physics problems in class? Mazur says that he realized students watching a professor solve problems at the blackboard had little lasting benefit. The benefit of watching a physicist solve problems at the board, says Mazur, is something like training to run a marathon by sitting on the sofa eating chips all day and watching videos of great marathon runners. If you want to be a better runner, you have to run. If you want to be a better problem solver, you have to solve problems. In the end what Mazur found is that when students better understand the material (by going deep, discussing with peers, teaching to peers, etc.), they become better problem solvers. Interestingly, however, Mazur discovered that being a good problem solver (and doing well on tests) did not always indicate understanding.
There are two basic and important points that Dr. Mazur made in this presentation: (1) "Traditional indicators of success are misleading." That is, teacher evaluations and examination results do not reflect whether students really understand the content, even if they do well on the tests. (2) "Education is no longer about information." Mazur says the key is not memorizing recipes and formulas to do well on a test, but rather to develop and demonstrate the ability to use the information to solve problems.