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Nanophotonics Professor Recognized for Education Innovation

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 22, 2014 — Eric Mazur of Harvard University has been awarded the Minerva Prize for Advancements in Higher Education for his “significant contributions to improving higher education.”

Mazur was recognized by the Minerva Academy of San Francisco for his development of Peer Instruction, a renowned teaching method that incorporates interactive pedagogy into the classroom. He is the Balkanski professor of physics, applied physics and nanophotonics, and area dean for applied physics at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Peer Instruction is a question-based active learning technique that was created as an alternative to the traditional lecture-style class, and has been recognized worldwide for driving dramatic improvements in student learning outcomes.

“[Mazur’s] 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,” said Dr. Roger Kornberg, Nobel laureate and governor of the Minerva Academy. “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 idea behind Peer Instruction is to utilize class time for engaging students in interactive discussions. Classroom time is devoted to deepening the understanding of the material from a pre-class assignment, typically reading a relevant book or watching a video.

Presentations by the instructor are incorporated with conceptual questions as well as in-depth discussions. This essentially encourages students to think through the arguments and discussions being developed, in turn allowing for assessment of their understanding of the concepts.

“[Mazur’s] innovative thinking has been disruptive in the best sense of the word,” said Cherry A. Murray, dean of Harvard 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.”

She added that Peer Instruction “prepares graduates to engage with difficult problems beyond the classroom walls.”

The Minerva Prize judges competitors’ work based on the innovation itself and the impact it has had on students, faculty and institutions around the world, as well as how it has inspired faculty and students to achieve improved learning experiences.

In addition to the award recognition, Mazur will receive a $500,000 cash prize.

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