Father of the flipped classroom says we should let students use their phones in exams


Eric Mazur, pioneer of the flipped classroom, urges academics to take the next leap allowing students to use their laptops and phones in exams. 

Eric Mazur, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University, and pioneer of the flipped classroom, encouraged fellow academics to “rethink assessment and take it to the next frontier,” during his participation at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit. 

According to an article by Chris Havergal, during his talk, Professor Mazur urged academics to take the next leap allowing students to use their laptops and phones in exams. He himself encourages students to bring their mobile devices into exams to “look up whatever you want, whenever you want” arguing that in the era of the Google search, students “don’t need to memorize anything.”

Instead, he prefers students to be creative and use critical thinking and other analytical skills. “That means that I have to make sure that the answers to the questions I ask are not available by simple Google search, but that is a small price to pay,” Professor Mazur said. “[This] has forced me to make my assessments much more meaningful and much more representative of testing the 21st-century skills that we want our students to develop.”

In 1991, Dr. Mazur developed an instructional strategy called “peer instruction” at Harvard University. Work that led to a book titled Peer Instruction: A User's Manual, published in 1997. With “peer instruction”, Dr. Mazur moved from the traditional lecture by asking students to read the texts in advance to use classroom time for discussion. 

During his participation in a panel discussion on how technology can help to improve teaching at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit, Dr. Mazur said that universities are lagging behind when it comes to using technology to develop innovative pedagogies. 

“In many… world-class universities, including my own, next to labs where state-of-the-art research is taking place are classrooms where we are essentially teaching in much the same way as we did over 1,000 years ago,” he said. “Essentially instructors are regurgitating readily available information, and later students memorize and regurgitate that exact same information back on exams.”

In addition, Professor Mazur said universities should use technology to encourage more collaboration between students outside the classroom. To illustrate the benefits of this approach, Dr. Mazur said that Harvard students are using Perusall, a social learning platform developed at Harvard University, that allows learners to annotate readings and respond to other students’ comments and questions about texts. According to Dr. Mazur, early results show that students who use the platform are performing significantly better than their peers.