According to a recent article in the New York Times, the physics department at M.I.T. has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.
Other universities have implemented similar changes, including Harvard, Rensselaer, North Carolina State, the University of Maryland, and the University of Colorado, Boulder. At these institutions, physicists have been pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.
“Just as you can’t become a marathon runner by watching marathons on TV,” observes Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard, “likewise for science, you have to go through the thought processes of doing science and not just watch your instructor do it.”
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