The Clicker Meets Quarks: New Technology Revolutionizes Physics 1b

For years, Harvard students have dealt with large class enrollments and cavernous, impersonal lecture halls. To some, it has been a blessing--allowing the shy to avoid having to speak in front of their peers, or the tired to catch a few extra winks. To others, the crowding has been but a curse, frustrating and stifling those seeking a little more personal attention.

But, for those enrolled in "Physics 1b," the days of being lost in the crowd are fast becoming numbered.

With the help of a grant from Science Center Director Dean R. Gallant, McKay Professor of Applied Physics Eric M. Mazur is forcing students to learn from each other using interactive systems where technology meets the Science Center's multi-colored halls.

The technology allows Mazur to quiz students immediately to see if they "get it," and allows students to help teach their neighbor--a culmination in Mazur's teaching philosophy of peer instruction.

Start Your Engines

In a scene that seemed straight out of a college admissions video, physics class stopped in the middle of a lecture yesterday as Mazur flipped on an overhead, and told the approximately 160 students, "you have one minute to make up your mind and answer the question."

On cue, students pointed little remote control devices at the front of the room, and personal numbers of the students popped up on the hall's projection screen, recording the classes responses in bright purples, blues, greens, fuchsias and magentas.

Once the minute had passed, Mazur told his class, "turn to your neighbor and see if you can convince your neighbor what the right answer is."