NSF grant will virtualize evidence-based teaching for science and engineering

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Harvard University and The University of Texas at Austin have received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop open-access research-based tools for advancing learning in science and engineering.

Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), will serve as lead investigator in collaboration with co-principal investigator Sacha Kopp at the UT-Austin College of Natural Sciences (CNS), and project director Julie Schell, senior educational researcher in the Mazur Group at SEAS.

As part of the NSF’s Office of CyberInfrastructure, the grant will be used to “virtualize” evidence-based teaching methods, making good practices accessible to educators everywhere.

“This project will help teachers improve students’ learning by disseminating innovative instructional approaches via the Internet and, in turn, will allow us to streamline our efforts to enhance learning in science and engineering for broad audiences,” said Mazur.

The project will feature Mazur’s learning methodology—Peer Instruction (PI). The basic goals of PI are to encourage and make use of student interaction during lectures, while focusing students’ attention on underlying concepts and techniques.

Already used by thousands of instructors who have collectively taught more than 75,000 students, PI is supported by 20 years of research. Many studies using standardized, diagnostic tests have evaluated PI and shown it to be considerably more effective than the conventional lecture approach to teaching.