Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Response to Eric Mazur

I was saddened by much of Eric Mazur's Youtube video, especially by the way he continually described an extremely stereotypical, 19th Century convention of 'lecturing' - the lecturer standing in front of a group, with 5 Powerpoint slides 'transferring knowledge'. Indeed, it shocked me to see Mazur berating such a lecturing style in yet another deeply conventional and boring lecture - neither entertaining nor inspirational, nor impressive. Many of us are fortunate enough never to have taught in this way - some of us are fortunate enough never to have BEEN taught in this way.

As a filmmaker and as a media professional, I find Mazur's use of Youtube (and of video) amateurish and repulsive. A rambling, unstructured 1 hour Youtube video - most of it a complete waste of the audience's time? 51 minutes before he actually gets to the point? I'm deeply unimpressed. Clever people like Mazur need some basic lessons in media, communication and treatment of the audience. Media is not rocket science. Much of it is common sense and a lot of it is a common courtesy respect for the audience - very little of that is evidenced here.

I agree with much of what Mazur said about whether we measure the success of our teaching and of our students learning - we use continuous assessment and criterion-based module assessment to measure how successful (or not) our students are at engaging with our Module Learning Outcomes. We're fortunate enough not to have to use exams.
Our KPI's tend to be student attrition or progression, graduation, post-grad study or post-grad employment or work in our sector.

I agree with Mazur that we don't collect data on our teaching - I agree that this needs consideration.
We encourage 'plausible wrong answers' all the time. In creative disciplines, a lack of moralistic discrimination is seen as a key component of ideas creation/brainstorming/concept development.

Much of what we do is the encouragement of assimilation, conceptualisation and innovative implementation.

Even with our more 'technical' disciplines, we're encouraging our students to assimilate procedures and then to
make their own of the tools and techniques (we characterise this as 'inflicting yourself on the technical')

All of our instruction could be framed as 'small group instruction' (under 30 students, frequently smaller groups)

22 minutes of Mazur's Youtube video - Mazur's argument is an argument against the stereotypical convention of lecturing.

For me, the notion of a lecturer lecturing directly from his teaching notes is rather like lecturers reading their Powerpoint text bullet points aloud... It's idiotic.

Mazur's revelation at 27:43 - 'a lot of my learning happened outside of the classroom, when I tried to figure things out for myself...'
I believe some of this 'figuring out' can be pre-empted, can be guided... The students need to do the heavy lifting themselves, but... The lecturer can guide, can warn (especially warning against really time-wasting) pitfalls...

27:50 I agree that the HARD part, the assimilation, is left to the student...

Mazur's point about 'students haven't even understood what I did in week one!' points to a very inflexible, sequential delivery. None of his lecturing is recapped or repeated? Each previous lecture becomes a mandatory prerequisite for all subsequent lectures? No wonder his students are confused.

32:00 a 'traditionally' taught class...
34:30 the way we 'traditionally' test our students is extremely misleading
If so, we've never 'taught conventionally'...

39:15 grading the 'conventional problem' versus the 'conceptual problem' (right answers versus wrong answers)
I believe we've moved beyond this 'conventional problem' idea...

44:00 blindly applying recipes you don't understand...
why don't the students understand such recipes? Recipes? Formulaic solutions?

finally, as an unforgiveable 50 minutes of Mazur's video passes, he starts to realise that students discussing the problem is a way to proceed! Fabulous.

51:00 Mazur's notion of 'the better you know something, the more difficult it becomes to teach' may often be true. However, in many of my lectures, I've come to assume that the subject (especially the students' entry into the subject) will be a challenge and will always present difficulties.

52:34 I like Mazur's idea about pre-class reading.

I agree with Mazur's idea of using the class to do DEPTH, not coverage.

'Peer Instruction and teaching by questioning, not by telling' - we get them (even in the technical disciplines) to learn by doing, less by 'watching us showing'...

59:00 'I decided NOT to do any problem solving in class 'students don't dervive any benefit from seeing the lecturer solve problems on the board' 'you don't learn by watching someone else do it...'
I disagree with this sweeping statement. In some of our more practical technical classes, the students work through their own projects in class, based on the brief. When I identify a technical problem, especially a recurring probelm, I'll demo a solution on the projector - but then I'll return to the student to watch him or her working through the problem in his/her project. If they haven't understood, I'll talk them through it (getting them to 'do' it (they do the driving), then I'll get them to go through the solution from scratch again. If they still haven't got it, I may demo the solution again on the projector.

1:01:00 Better understanding leads to better problem solving (good problem solving does not indicate good understanding)...
I agree with this...



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