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Queen's University
 

Centre for Teaching and Learning

Memorizing or Understanding: Are we teaching the right thing?

with Dr. Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, and Area Dean of Applied Physics, Harvard University

Co-sponsored by the Department of Physics and the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Queen's



This session was video recorded on Friday, November 11, 2011, Stirling Hall, Theatre D, 1:30pm - 2:30 pm


PDF of PowerPoint Slides
 

Session Description

Education is more than just transfer of information, yet that is what is mostly done in large introductory courses -- instructors present material (even though this material might be readily available in printed form) and for students the main purpose of lectures is to take down as many notes as they can. Few students have the ability, motivation, and discipline to synthesize all the information delivered to them. Yet synthesis is perhaps the most important -- and most elusive -- aspect of education. I will show how shifting the focus in lectures from delivering information to synthesizing information greatly improves the learning that takes place in the classroom.

 

 
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About the Presenter

Eric Mazur is the Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University and Area Dean of Applied Physics. An internationally recognized scientist and researcher, he leads a vigorous research program in optical physics and supervises one of the largest research groups in the Physics Department at Harvard University.

After obtaining a Ph.D. degree in experimental physics at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in 1981, Dr. Mazur came to Harvard University in 1982. In 1984 he joined the faculty and obtained tenure six years later. Dr. Mazur has made important contributions to spectroscopy, light scattering, the interaction of ultrashort laser pulses with materials, and nanophotonics.

In 1988 he was awarded a Presidential Young Investigator Award. He is Fellow of the Optical Society of America and Fellow of the American Physical Society, and has been named APS Centennial Lecturer during the Society's centennial year. In 2007 Mazur was appointed Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar. In 2008 Mazur received the Esther Hoffman Beller award from the Optical Society of America and the Millikan Medal from the American Association of Physics Teachers. In 2010 he was elected Director at Large for the Optical Society of America. Dr. Mazur is a Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of the Netherlands. He is honorary professor at the Institute of Semiconductor Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and has held appointments as Visiting Professor or Distinguished Lecturer at Princeton University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Leuven in Belgium, National Taiwan University in Taiwan, Carnegie Mellon University, and Hong Kong University.

In addition to his work in optical physics, Dr. Mazur is interested in education, science policy, outreach, and the public perception of science. He believes that better science education for all -- not just science majors -- is vital for continued scientific progress. To this end, Dr. Mazur devotes part of his research group's effort to education research and finding verifiable ways to improve science education. In 1990 he began developing Peer Instruction a method for teaching large lecture classes interactively. Dr. Mazur's teaching method has developed a large following, both nationally and internationally, and has been adopted across many science disciplines.

Dr. Mazur has served on numerous committees and councils, including advisory and visiting committees for the National Science Foundation, has chaired and organized national and international scientific conferences, and presented for the Presidential Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. He serves as consultant to industry in the electronics and telecommunications industry. In 2006 he founded SiOnyx, a company that is commercializing black silicon, a new form of silicon developed in Mazur's laboratory. Mazur is currently Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board for SiOnyx. In 2011 he founded Learning Catalytics, a company that uses data analytics to improve learning in the classroom. Mazur is Chairman of the Instructional Strategy Advisory Group for Turning Technologies, a company developing interactive response systems for the education market. He also serves on the Scientific Advisory Panel for Allied Minds, a pre-seed investment company creating partnerships with key universities to fund corporate spin-outs in early stage technology companies, and on the Scientific Advisory Board for the Lifeboat Foundation, a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements.

Dr. Mazur is author or co-author of 242 scientific publications and 12 patents. He has also written on education and is the author of Peer Instruction: A User's Manual (Prentice Hall, 1997), a book that explains how to teach large lecture classes interactively. In 2006 he helped produce the award-winning DVD Interactive Teaching.

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