University professors teach better if they stopped lecturing
TheStar.com – parentcentral.ca/parent/education/post-secondary
May 12, 2011. Joseph Hall, Health Reporter
Don’t lecture me.
As a campus slogan, that could well catch fire in the wake of a new Canadian study suggesting the professorial monologues that have taught young science scholars for centuries should be banned from the classroom.
Students thrust into a frenetic roil of group discussions and rapid-fire consensus answers do much better in physics, chemistry and other science courses, even if they’re taught by lowly graduate instructors, the study’s Nobel laureate author says.
“This is clearly more effective learning, everybody should be doing it,” says University of British Columbiaphysicist Carl Wieman, the study’s senior author.
“It should be wholesale transformation; you’re practising bad teaching if you’re not doing (interactive instruction),” says Wieman, who shared the Nobel physics prize in 2001.
The study was released Thursday by the journal Science.
It showed that a group of some 270 UBC students taught in an interactive environment scored twice as well in a 1st year physics quiz than an academically and motivationally equal set of peers who learned the same subject matter through traditional lectures.
That’s despite the fact the lectures were delivered by a tenured, animated and popular professor while the interactive group relied on two graduate teaching assistants for their instruction on electromagnetic waves.
Students in the interactive class were shown problems then asked to group up, discuss the material and, “thinking like scientists,” formulate answers in a matter of minutes.
The students then used clickers — remote control devices employed to pick out answers from a multiple choice list — to respond.
Their teaching assistant instructors — who circulated amongst the students during their deliberations — would then reveal the correct answer and explain the reasons it was right.
Both the lecture and interactive groups received three hours of instruction on the same course material and each was given an identical quiz.
Students in the interactive group scored an average 74 per cent while those who sat through the lectures averaged a dismal 41 per cent.
“There’s almost nobody from the (lecture) class that would even be average in the experimental course,” Wieman said during a media teleconference.
Wieman, a key promoter of new teaching methods, says there is also evidence — though no proof — that those students who learned in the interactive manner would also retain the knowledge longer.
He says the research suggests even the most acclaimed professors should step down from their podiums and mix it up with their students.
“Look at what (students) learn from a good traditional lecture . . . not very much,” Wieman says. “You have got tenured faculty, you want to help them to see better how to teach in different ways.”
Although the research was conducted in an introductory physics class, Wieman says the interactive method would surely work in all pure science disciplines.
“The farther away you get from the sciences the less certain I am, (though) I’m pretty confident that in the social sciences I sort of see how you would do the same things there,” he says.
Leslie Chan, a University of Toronto expert in the use of new media in higher education, cautions the study’s short, three-hour instructional segments were not enough to establish the interactive style’s superiority.
“But what this whole thing really is saying is that you should think about other ways of teaching students, particularly in large classes,” Chan says. “You should be more creative in using different strategies.”
Louis Deslauriers, who was one of the interactive inductors and the study’s lead author, says all UBC introductory physics courses will now incorporate the new methods into their curriculums.
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