I watched the Eric Mazur video on interactive lecture in which he dropped pollen into an electrically charged circle and the pollen started to move clockwise. He then had students vote using classroom response technology. He had them vote on their own first, then discuss with their neighbors when the votes showed the crowd was split. They were actively trying to problem-solve and think through the possible answers. The peer assisted problem solving or “Peer Instruction’ is part of what he calls ConcepTests.
Similar to John Seely Brown’s example of architect workers’ projects in progress being visible to all, the thought progress of Mazur’s students is visible in progress through the multiple class polls. The students work in groups and try to capitalize on diverse ways of thinking to help explain to each other possible solutions and choose what they think fits.
Both authors seem to be promoting the idea that learning practices must change in the 21st Century to accomplish the goals of “better” learning environments. Specifically, we must abandon old ideas of students being passive vessels to be filled with knowledge through straight lecturing. To be ready to thrive in a working world that is increasingly organized into diverse and digitally connected teams, it seems logical that students are given the opportunity to learn in a simliar environment. As Brown (2006) notes in an illustration, this is “learning as enculturation into a practice” (p. 18).
In order for classroom models like this to work, though, we need to re-orient both students and teachers to what a classroom should look like and function like. As Brown (2006) also notes, teachers have to be trained “to produce activity-based learning rather than lecturing” (p. 19) which means changing the “epistemic frame” of courses such that teachers are mentors showing students “how to be” in a field (p. 20).
I am still pondering how this could be applied in my chosen field of interpersonal communication. Unlike “architect” or “physicist,” folks who study communication are not aiming for a specifically defined profession. Also, we all engage in communication every day whether or not we are studying “how to be” a communicator. It seems for my students it would be helping people to be better at certain life skills like empathy, explanation and negotiation, regardless of setting or profession. It is easy for me to imagine mentoring students through a problem-solving situation in which there is a known “correct” answer- mathemeticians agree on solutions for proofs; scientists agree on the laws of how electricity works. But in the social sciences, we are working with fuzzier concepts like what is ethical and respectful in a given social situation; more of a case-study model.
Brown, J. (2006). New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the
edge. Change, 38(5), 18-24.
Harvard Magazine [HM]. (2012, February 9). Eric Mazur shows interactive teaching [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wont2v_LZ1E
Mazur Group (2014). Home: Education. Retrieved from