How 10 Years of Education Research Invalidated 40 Years of My Assumptions -- a personal conversion

By David E. Pritchard

Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

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The Socratic online tutor, improved students’ performance in MIT’s introductory physics course by about two standard deviations – a huge success. But further investigations of what exactly they learned, how much they remembered as seniors, the role of homework copying, the limitations of partial credit grading, and the disparity between what physics teachers want to teach and what their students want to learn has been disquieting. I shall describe an on-campus pedagogy that helps students to become more expert. Then I’ll describe how research, development, online learning and MOOCs might be combined to spread better learning universally.


David E. Pritchard David E. Pritchard is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics at MIT. He carried out pioneering experiments on the interaction of atoms with light that led to the creation of the field of atom optics. Professor Pritchard received his B.S. from California Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. from Harvard, working with Professor Daniel Kleppner, through his move to MIT. Pritchard joined the faculty of the Department of Physics in 1970. At MIT, Professor Pritchard mentored four students who won national thesis prizes and three people who won the Nobel Prizes for slowing and cooling atoms and for achieving Bose-Einstein condensation. Professor Pritchard has many honors, including the IUPAP prize for precision metrology. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Professor Pritchard currently focuses his research on how to help students learn better, especially from online courses. He has contributed a great deal to creating tools and pedagogy to teach physics. He is the creator of, and teaches a MOOC on introductory mechanics on edX.

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  • David E. Pritchard (2017), "How 10 Years of Education Research Invalidated 40 Years of My Assumptions -- a personal conversion,"

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