Minerva reports that the 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.” The Minerva Academy is a “distinguished academy of educators” led by Nobel Laureate Dr. Roger Kornberg. In March, Eric was inducted into the academy as a founding member.
“Members of the Academy unanimously and enthusiastically agreed on the selection of Dr. Mazur as the first recipient of the Minerva Prize,” said Dr. Roger Kornberg, Nobel Laureate and 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” (From the Minerva Press Release).
Eric’s impact on undergraduate education is well documented. But his influence goes far beyond the classroom walls. He has always taken special interest in graduate and post-doctoral mentoring. His influence on his post-docs is evident in their career trajectories and their continued passion for driving educational innovation and change. Most importantly, Peer Instruction continues to be a centerpiece in many former Mazur Group post-doc’s lives.
For example, Dr. Brian Lukoff worked as a post-doc in the Mazur Group with me and is the co-founder, with Eric and Gary King, of Learning Catalytics. He says: “What started as a research project [to facilitate Peer Instruction] became an exciting venture that has had a real impact in classrooms around the world. Last year, Pearson acquired the company that grew out of our work, and I have joined Pearson full-time to work on product development and strategy.”
Professor Nathaniel Lasry, a professor at John Abbott College in Canada, continues to direct research on Peer Instruction and mentor Mazur Group graduate students whose research focuses on the method. He is also working on a project to develop a platform to feature asynchronous Peer Instruction.
Peer Instruction is not a new method, in fact Eric developed it over 20 years ago. Why should people still use it, in this era saturated by exciting and new pedagogical innovations?
Lasry says, “Alan Turing proposed the idea for the modern computer in 1936. But when I open my laptop I don’t think about it as ‘ahh..this old thing!’ Why? Because it works!!! Well, the same applies for Peer Instruction. The only reason people should use something is because it works. And one thing we can show from studies we’ve done, one thing we know walking into any Peer Instruction classroom is that … it works!”
For myself, immediately after my post-doc in the Mazur Group, I joined The University of Texas at Austin as the Director of OnRamps and Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Teaching and Learning and joined the Program in Higher Education Leadership as a Clinical Assistant Professor. In 2013, a colleague and I received an award from the Longhorn Innovation Fund for Technology. Being champions of Peer Instruction, we believe that social interaction is the “killer application” in any learning environment. With the seed funding from the LIFT grant, we are working on developing new tools to extend our favorite social learning methods beyond the walls of a physical classroom. I am also continuing work with the Mazur Group on a project I developed with Eric called Project PORTALS, sponsored by the NSF. The core purpose of PORTALS is to provide access to expertly-designed Peer Instruction training to anyone, anywhere in the world with access to a computer and an Internet connection. We expect the free, self-paced, computer-based trainings to be available in the next year.
Eric has changed many lives through teaching, Peer Instruction, and educational reform. Please join me in congratulating him on this incredible accomplishment.