Mazur opened his presentation by discussing a common, yet outdated, teaching tool often used by schools: flashcards.
Through his research, he’s found that flashcards can guarantee that students will simply ‘pass the test’. But an obvious problem with this, according to Mazur, is that if you were to test a student on what they’d learned from those flashcard after one week, they’d only remember 35 per cent of the content.
“What motivates our students to study is the need to pass our test – therefore rather than study to learn, they study to pass the test,” he shares.
He comments that our approaches to assessment in education are equally outdated.
Mazur says instead of developing 21st century skills in students, educators are focused on ranking students, but they’re not doing a great a job in coming up with a meaningful ranking system.
Mazur says that part of this problem is that students themselves are quite reluctant to make assumptions, but he believes it is vitally important that this is addressed.
“The road to creativity is littered with failures. Unless you learn to make assumptions you can’t be innovative,” he shares.
Through his work at Harvard University, particularly throughout his own research, Mazur says he’s learned that solving an authentic problem is often an erratic experience.
He says it might take several trials, and failures, to arrive at any real solution.
“More often than not it won’t work,” he says.
But the problem, according to Mazur, is that students in the classroom are risk averse. They’re not willing to make mistakes because it costs them points when it comes to assessment.
“Our grading practices are incompatible with creativity and innovation,” he says.
“Why are we testing our students in an environment that they will never encounter in their professional lives?”
During the presentation, Mazur makes a point that very evidently excites delegates in the Great Hall.
He questions: “Why would a learner be cheating? When you take true ownership of your learning, you wouldn’t dream of cheating.”
In his own classrooms, Mazur allows students to take open book tests and use computers or laptops, because he simply doesn’t ask questions that can be ‘googled’.
Mazur ends his keynote with a call to action, leaving delegates with a lot to think about over the next two days.
“We must rethink assessment because if we do not rethink our approaches to assessment, we will continue to educate the followers of yesterday rather than the leaders of tomorrow,” he shares.