Mazur Criticizes Forms of Assessments

Current academic assessments fail to teach students skills that are applicable in the real world, argued Area Dean for Applied Physics Eric Mazur during a lecture to a packed hall in the Science Center Tuesday afternoon.

During his lecture, which was titled “The Silent Killer of Learning” and was selected as this year’s Dudley Herschbach Scientist/Teacher lecture, Mazur also argued that assessments promote “inauthentic problem solving,” and thus fail to provide students with the skills most needed in the real world. Mazur said that assessments should focus on feedback, not ranking, and on skills, not memorization.

With a picture of an exam room displayed on the board, Mazur asked, “Have you ever in your professional life encountered a situation where you were cut off from any source of information and from other people?” The remark drew chuckles from the crowd.

In an effort to make the skills learned in the classroom more applicable in the real world, Mazur said that he allows students to bring their books and notes into assessments and has group examinations, where students work in a team, teaching and learning from each other. Mazur also advocated for immediate peer assessments, which he said allow students to receive feedback while the information is still fresh in their mind.

Typical assessments ask you to discover a solution using a learned procedure, which Mazur said is troublesome because real-world problems require students to discover a procedure to reach a desired outcome.

Furthermore, Mazur argued that current assessments problematically rob students of the freedom to make mistakes.

“Making mistakes is a part of problem solving,” said Mazur, but “grading is incompatible with real problem-solving because it penalizes students for making mistakes …. It makes students risk averse.”

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