Harvard College

Presenting Projects Publicly as Summative Assessment

Creating opportunities for students to make their learning public can raise the stakes and broaden a course's horizons. In this video, one of Eric Mazur’s students and his teaching assistant introduce how they use a public project fair as the primary summative assessment in the class. At the fair, students demonstrate how their projects work to external judges and then answer questions about the design process and related class concepts. The result is an engaged public and motivated, proud students.

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Tracking the Learning Process Using Design Notebooks

Given the messiness of the design process, it’s important for students to be able to track their own learning while they engage in projects. In this video, Eric Mazur outlines how he uses design notebooks in his class in which students document all elements of their project- and team-building experience. Students submit design notebooks with their completed projects and are graded for their completeness and quality of reflections. These notebooks help reinforce the principles of iterative development that underpin project-based learning and further emphasize the...

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Creating Assessments with Individual and Collaborative Components

We all know the image: Stressed, fearful students trickle into a silent exam hall, all tired from cramming from the night before. But as Eric Mazur notes, stress is not conducive to deep and meaningful learning. In fact, the stress of exam culture often means that students only study for tests and then forget what they learned soon after. To flip this script, Mazur and his teaching team have instituted two stage exams. In the first stage, students work individually; but in the second stage, they share answers with each other, discussing and debating until they find the right answer...

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Using Peer Instruction to Improve Student Learning

Peer instruction discussions are an efficient and student-centered way to address common misconceptions about  course concepts. By getting students to individually answer class questions and then getting those with different answers to talk to one another, you can encourage students to assess each others’ ideas and move closer towards the correct answer. In this video, Eric Mazur describes how he leverages peer instruction using in-class polling technology. He notes how even after a short discussion amongst peers, students can go from around 50 percent ...

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Devaluing the Right Answer

Most instructors experience students asking them if they have the right answer or just asking for the right answer outright. However, as Eric Mazur and his teaching team in this video acknowledge, simply giving students the right answer can “sabotage” problem-based learning. This is because what matters in problem-based learning is not the answer so much as the process of arriving at an answer. Devaluing the right answer is one way for instructors to make this principle of teaching clear in their classrooms.

Using Team Contracts and Peer Feedback to Foster Team Building

Many students balk at the idea of working in teams, particularly when they don’t know who the other students are. Students may be concerned others won’t pull their weight or that the output may not meet expectations. Given this, it is important for instructors to be intentional in fostering team-building experiences and peer-accountability processes. Doing so, instructors can ensure that teams get off on the right foot and persist productively throughout the class. In this video, Eric Mazur and his teaching team give examples of how they do this by discussing the use of reflection, team...

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Designing Project Teams that Work

Teams are most productive and conducive to learning when students with complementary skills, knowledge, and dispositions work together. That said, students generally don’t enter classrooms already sorted in these diverse ways. Often they group together based on achievement and engagement or based on background characteristics. In this video, Eric Mazur and his teaching team explain how and why they intentionally design heterogeneous teams. By using pre-class surveys and student demographic data, they find ways to assign students to teams in ways that play to each member’s strengths and...

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Designing Authentic Projects

Effective projects are carefully designed in order to deepen and broaden students’ understanding of course concepts by applying them to real-world challenges. The point is to demonstrate to students how what they’re learning in the course -- information that may see fairly dry in the abstract -- becomes  extremely important when applied to everyday problems. In this video, Eric Mazur and his teaching team underscore the value of using projects to give learning a deeper meaning. They emphasize how learning is much more memorable when students get a chance to be hands-on and enact...

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Using Team-Based Learning to Prepare Students for the Real World

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the future of work will become increasingly collaborative. As he explains in this video, this is what underpins Eric Mazur’s approach to team-based learning: a belief that instructors need to help students learn how to work together because this is how they will succeed once they leave our classrooms. 

Using Project-Based Learning to Engage Students

In contrast to traditional lecture-based courses, using projects in the classroom pushes students to actively apply what they have learned. In AP50: Physics as a Foundation for Science and Engineering, instructors put aside textbooks and lectures, challenging students instead to construct a machine that meets a real world challenge. Once students are engaged, instructors then begin to make textbook connections, pointing out how fundamental class concepts can enhance the quality of students’ project. This is what Eric Mazur calls the “Trojan Horse” of learning.

Asking questions that push students to discover information for themselves

Some instructors design lectures that simply telegraph answers to students. While there are certainly cases where it makes sense to deliver answers this way, a wholesale dependence on this approach will likely mute students’ drive to discover answers for themselves, resulting in a class of students who depend on you rather than on themselves to solve problems. Infusing lectures with questions that spark students toward self-discovery, however, can help to foster more productive, interactive learning spaces. Paola Arlotta uses leading and “prodding” questions to help students...

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Knowing when to intervene in the student-centered discussion

Timothy Patrick McCarthy admits that intervening and interjecting in discussions can be an “inelegant art.” If the goal is to have a student-led discussion, then the instructor should mostly let the conversation play out among students. But since the instructor has the end in mind, there are times when he/she should strategically interject to keep the discussion on track. In this video, McCarthy describes the typical pace of his student-led seminar and why he tends to interject more near the end of class.

Calling on students in equitable ways

Patterns of classroom participation can take shape very early in a semester and become further cemented with each class session. Students who do not perceive professors’ strategies of soliciting participation as fair or purposeful may be less apt to contribute. Establishing inclusive, equitable norms of participation the very first class sessions is essential. In this video, Tim McCarthy demonstrates that even in a seminar setting he calls on students to monitor equitable participation.

Making adjustments on the fly to keep lectures “organic”

A classic challenge for the lecturers is how to fit all relevant material into the timeframe of a short class period, not to mention a short semester. When a student makes an insightful point that would take the class in a new direction, instructors must decide: Do I go on a worthwhile tangent to address the student’s point, or do I proceed as I had planned? In this video, Brett Flehinger shares why he allows student contributions to shape the path a class takes and how he makes strategic adjustments on the fly.

Inviting students to take a stand and disagree

Well-crafted discussion questions can carve out spaces for disagreement. They can even encourage it. But cultivating the type of respectful disagreement that helps students grow academically and personally is tricky, especially when students feel strongly about particular issues. In this video, Tim McCarthy models the verbal and nonverbal behaviors that help his students learn how to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

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