Campus & Community

Eric Mazur wins Minerva Prize

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$500,000 award recognizes decades of innovation in the classroom

The Minerva Academy on Tuesday named Eric Mazur the first winner of the Minerva Prize for Advancements in Higher Education. In announcing the $500,000 award, the academy specifically noted Mazur’s development of “peer instruction,” an innovative teaching method that incorporates interactive pedagogy into the classroom and has been recognized worldwide for driving dramatic improvements in learning outcomes.

Mazur is the Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics and Area Dean for Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). The Minerva Prize recognizes one faculty member from any institution worldwide who has made a significant impact on student learning experiences through extraordinary innovation in higher education.

“Members of the academy unanimously and enthusiastically agreed on the selection of Dr. Mazur as the first recipient of the Minerva Prize,” said Roger Kornberg, a Nobel laureate and the governor of the Minerva Academy. “His development of the peer-instruction teaching methodology, now broadly adopted, embodies the innovation in teaching excellence that the Minerva Prize was conceived to recognize and promote. We are pleased to bestow this honor upon an individual who has contributed so greatly to the advancement of teaching and with such passion for improving student learning outcomes.”

The academy considered a large number of nominations. The three primary criteria in selecting the winner were the innovation itself; its impact on students, faculty, and institutions around the world; and how the innovation has inspired both faculty and students to achieve better learning experiences more generally.

More than 20 years ago, Mazur developed peer instruction as an alternative to the lecture-driven class. In peer instruction, the instructor “flips” the classroom, engaging students in interactive discussions about the subject material. Students prepare for class by either reading or watching videos covering the content. Classroom time is devoted to deepening the understanding of the material from the pre-class assignment. Presentations by the professor are interspersed with conceptual questions designed to expose common difficulties in understanding the material. Students are given a few minutes to think about the question and formulate their answers; they then discuss their answers in groups of three to four, attempting to reach consensus on a viable answer.

Two decades of research support the effectiveness of peer instruction across disciplines.

The methodology has been covered in nearly 1,500 papers in peer-reviewed journals and in numerous books. Mazur’s “Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual” (1997) has been translated into four languages.

“Eric Mazur’s innovative thinking has been disruptive in the best sense of the word,” said Dean Cherry A. Murray of SEAS. “He has used a scientist’s mindset to formulate and perfect a new approach to teaching that complements what we already know about how students learn. That’s catching on internationally because it prepares graduates to engage with difficult problems beyond the classroom walls.”

Mazur will receive the prize at an academy gathering in October.

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