Professor Eric Mazur @ uLearn17

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The opening keynote presenter for the 2017 uLearn conference in Hamilton, New Zealand was Professor Eric Mazur, a physicist and educator at Harvard University. Professor Mazur is also an entrepreneur in the area of technology start-ups for the educational and technology markets and was a pioneer of the current Flipped Learning approach to teaching and learning.

Professor Mazur began his talk with a reflection on his own personal teaching practice at Harvard. Like many educators, especially in the senior secondary and higher education, his teaching of 30 years ago was purely (in his words) a one way transmission of information from teacher to student, with a focus on regurgitating what was already available to his students through their textbooks.

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He posed the following question to all of us – is knowledge something that can be transmitted? Then he quickly answered in the negative and pointed out that knowledge needs to be actively constructed by the learner and that most classrooms and lecture theaters are set up for passive observers. He said, students need to do something with the information to turn it into knowledge.

There was a point in his teaching career that he realised that he was not an effective educator and he had to change his teaching practice. This lead to the publication of his book Peer Instruction in 1997 which became a instrumental guide to the Flipped Classroom approach to teaching & learning.

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Professor Mazur says that each classroom experience should be about engaging the brain. Yet in many (possibly most) classrooms across the globe, students appear to be just passive receptacles of information and expected to do the engagement (the hard & fun stuff) in their own time.

Mazur’s challenge to all educators is to flip the old model and have the students digest the information in their own time before they come to class then spend the bulk of valuable class time doing, sharing, creating & reflecting.

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Professor Mazur said that children are born curious, they can’t not ask why. Yet unfortunately, our global education systems are doing a very good job at turning off curiosity.¬† He said as students go through the ‘education system’, they just want to know the right answer to pass the test.

To help combat this at Harvard, Professor Mazur worked with a team to produce the award winning Perusall system with an aim to prepare every students in advance for every class so they had the facts and figures prior to meeting with each other and their teachers. This system is still in its early days but is already showing dramatic improvement in students overall learning goals, preparedness for classes and engagement in class.

Here is the info graphic that was produced during the keynote session at uLearn17 with thanks to www.reflectiongraphics.com

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