We put our spotlight on Eric Mazur this month. He is the Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics and Dean of Applied Physics at Harvard University, Member of the Faculty of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and President of the Optical Society. He is, in other words, a distinguished scientist. For our purposes however, he is a noted educator.

In his now-famous video Confessions of a Converted Lecturer, he recounts how he began teaching at Harvard in 1984. The first questions that occurred to him were not about teaching but about what he was going to teach – curriculum – and what book he was going to use – text. Hattie actually went into schools to listen to what teachers talked about and found that they talked about teaching (how) for only 2 minutes a day. The rest of the time they talked about students, curriculum, and other matters. So Mazur’s instinct is not unusual and it continues in schools to this day. As part of his experience, he read research that said that how you teach doesn’t matter, the students don’t learn anything. He tested that in his own class of Harvard pre-med students, and discovered that this was true in his class as well – the students had not learned much except how to pass the test at the end of the semester.

He therefore changed his approach from “teaching” to “helping students learn”.

Why is this amazing? Well, first Mazur was himself open to testing whether, as an award winning teacher, he was actually being effective. Second, what he found back in the 80s is still being rediscovered today in our own classrooms. It is astonishing that the bad habits of teaching have resisted change for decades and decades. Again, to quote Hattie – almost any approach will have impact if delivered well. But it is when teachers start talking about teaching and students take on their own learning that magic really happens.

This discovery of Mazur led to a revolution in his own teaching. He is still a distinguished physicist. He is now an advocate for teaching. In 2013, he gave a presentation on Assessment: the Silent Killer of Learning. Empower really hopes that Mazur’s work at the university level will inspire you to:

  1. turn your talking about curriculum to talking about learning
  2. radically reimagine your practice around assessment
  3. examine your own effectiveness
  4. listen to your own students