One thing for Week 1 – Eric Mazur

For the ‘if you only do one thing’ activity, I picked Eric Mazur. I believe the approach he is using is often referred to as the ‘flipped’ classroom.

I was interested in this as we have some lecturers trying out this approach as part of an Innovation project (the Teaching and Learning Institute where I work fund projects to develop innovative approaches to teaching and learning) and I thought it would be useful for me to learn more about one of the people pioneering this approach.

Collaboration not technology
Wen I watched the snippet of video, I came to realise how this approach is really not about technology – I have a feeling I should have known this already but the snippet of video and another link (posted by #ocTEL’er Joseph Gliddon)to a video showing Eric Mazur and his students in action brought this home to me. I think it was the amount of noise and discussion in the video that made me take extra notice.

In what I have read previously (granted probably not that much academic literature) the focus is often on the technology used to deliver materials prior to the face to face interaction and the clickers/voting pads used by the students in the lectures.

In a way the focus on technology is a kind of misdirection, because what is actually the main activity is the student interaction, the engagement with their peers, the students are learning from each other.

So, in my opinion, calling it the flipped classroom focuses on the wrong aspect of this approach. It is not really about inside/outside the classroom, it is about enabling collaboration and an approach to learning that acknowledges that learning is situated in a social context. Obviously, this is why Eric Mazur talks about peer instruction rather than technology.

I should just point out that I am a bit suspicious about the simplistic two steps of education outlined by Eric Mazur in the video, i.e. information transmission and assimilation. Perhaps his approach is more complex than that and I need to read a bit more about this. I was also wondering how this approach, although leading to peer engagement in the classroom, works for students outside the classroom? Does the design mean that student collaborate when not in class, does the collaboration extend beyond assimilation so that students can use their understanding of knowledge/skills gained? Are the students using technology outside the classroom to collaborate?

National differences in approach?
The video also made me consider my own experience. Doing preparation for class and coming prepared to discuss the material or sometimes prepared to present the material to your fellow students was how most of my university teaching and learning was structured when I went to Copenhagen University in the 1990s.

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8 Responses to One thing for Week 1 – Eric Mazur

  1. Thanks for the name check 🙂
    You are right its not the tech – its the students discussion that is important. I think the tech helps the instructor be aware if students are understanding & I think the act of voting is important in getting students to think about the answer.
    National Differences? I wonder if the differences are subject based. A lot of art subjects involve reading materials before class, my science degree tended to involve being talked at and then going and doing a lot of problems and reading after – I think it might have helped my motivation if I had to prepare beforehand. I think “Flipped” is sometimes seen as new because a lot of the people exposed to it have science/tech backgrounds.
    I have just finished a blog post on using flip as one of a number of things to change ( ) which might answer some of your questions about what happens outside the classroom

  2. Sue Folley says:

    Good post, I would also agree it is not the technology but the approach, especially in this case. What is interesting though is that it is often the use of technology which makes people rethink their pedagogy. So the technology is the catalyst but actually less important in the end, or sometimes it enables a change in pedagogy. We had a lecturer who was a very good lecturer, but when he went off on sabbatical, he screencast his lectures for the period of time he was away. When he returned, he decided to keep the lectures as screencast and ask the students to watch them at home before attending the classes, this way he could use the class time more productively. This was him discovering the flipped classroom idea for himself. He probably would have been very resistant to the idea before, but the use of technology made him rethink his approach.

    I also think you are right about cultural expectations – I think we sometimes allow our students to be lazy, and come to classes expecting to be taught rather than taking more responsibility for their own learning. If we set up a culture of having to do preparation before every class, I am sure then the class time could be much more productive.

  3. sdbentley says:

    Hi Kathrine, I totally agree with your point about Peer Instruction not being about the technology (Mazur makes this point in his book) and also with your point, Joseph, about the instructor having an awareness of student understanding although there are low-tech ways of doing PI such as students holding up coloured cards or using small whiteboards.

    I think your point about subject differences is interesting, we’re doing some research into that at the moment, and our preliminary results suggest that science students need more “carrot and stick” in the form of assessment to do the assigned reading than students in business/management disciplines which are more classroom based and where students are used to the teaching being formed around case studies and the like which they have to read.

    When I’ve looked into the literature as part of the project, it’s become apparent that Peer Instruction is (arguably) an evolution of some much older concepts, which predate clickers by some considerable margin. Buzz Groups (Bligh, 1971) and Think Pair Share (Lyman, 1981) are both on similar lines to Peer Instruction, but perhaps less nuanced and formalised.

    • markcj says:

      Hi sdbently,

      You’ve brought up the carrot and stick thing in science education. I think you’re probably right, objectively speaking, but this may well be due to the way science education is constructed as a delivery problem. From about 4th grade onward… well into Higher Ed, science education is very much a matter of “covering material” and the tradition is very instructionist. When we talk of students taking charge people are agast… how can the blind lead the blind?

      But science is not different from humanities – except in the institutional monopoly on authority. This is not the domain of science anymore, but of politics. and of tradition. When we start to question why science is science, then we turn it into something interesting that students can do. They do not need to be delivered content anymore, but they will go and find out what they need to know once they have a reason for knowing it.

      • balimaha says:

        Right on, Mark. In reality, scientists in the lab experiment and discover, not necessarily following procedure in the way learners are taught to do it in formal education

        Great blog post, btw, and I agree completely that the whole flipping discourse is both misguided (focus on tech) and not necessarily new (preparing learners outside class to do active learning in class). For someone who does not lecture at all, it’s a meaningless “innovation”; it’s also a poor understanding of what a good lecture is – a good lecturer, I assume, responds to the expressions in students’ faces, stops and asks questions in the middle before going on… can’t do that with a pre-recorded anything 🙂 Though I’ve seen some excellent experienced teachers stop and ask themselves common questions 🙂

  4. Jo Conlon says:

    Prompted to read your blog following your post about having more questions. I always seem to end up with more questions too! It interested me that your Uni classes were flipped as I would take it to mean. My take on flipped would be about preparations for class – mine and the students. So not an inside / outside view but more a before class / during class. I think he says ‘teaching by asking questions’ (rather than transmission). Also therefore nothing to do with technology other than as an enabler which reminded me of someone’s big questions ‘ How can we take the T out of TEL?’
    Think this may just give us both more questions!

  5. @leonie_learning says:

    Thanks – this was a really helpful discussion to follow.

    I liked sdbentley’s point about peer instruction not being a new invention. In fact, I’d say it goes back much further. E.g. Piaget’s ideas about peer discussion driving individuals’ learning by producing cognitive conflict – 1930s?. Also in Jewish education, discussion with a study partner at a similar level has been a common way of studying texts for centuries:

  6. markcj says:

    I think you’ve got this spot on. It is not about technology but rather about interaction. The technology should be transparent. You see them with their clickers, absent mindedly fiddling with them as they “vote” – and they are talking to each other. The clicker in hand makes this cross-talk possible, without it, such talk would be “disruptive” and even “disrespectful” of the lecturer or the group. I also think you’re right about the flipped model being self-consciously tech focused. Why would I watch a lecture at home BEFORE class? Don’t invade my space with that.

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