The Problem with Lecturing – Rethink

College students spend a lot of time listening to lectures. But research shows there are better ways to learn. And experts say students need to learn better because the 21st century economy demands more well-educated workers.

Lectures as a method of teaching are useful only for 10-15% of the students. Although the subject is physics this applies to all subjects and includes dedicated teachers.

Researchers and instructors have developed a number of “interactive-engagement” techniques in recent years that have proven more effective than lectures for teaching large classes. Mazur uses an approach that he calls “peer instruction.” It’s hard to know how many instructors are using these approaches, but experts say most large, introductory classes – especially in the sciences – are still taught using the conventional lecture method.

“The introductory classes only seem to be really working for about 10 percent of the students. These are the 10 percent who would learn it even without the instructor.” -David Hestenes

One of the Oldest Teaching Methods
Research conducted over the past few decades shows it’s impossible for students to take in and process all the information presented during a typical lecture, and yet this is one of the primary ways college students are taught, particularly in introductory courses.

Educating Everyone
It may seem obvious that lecturing isn’t the best method to get students thinking and learning. Project-based learning and other interactive approaches have been popular in elementary and secondary schools for a long time, and of course the discussion-based seminar is an age-old approach. But lecturing is still the dominant teaching method in large classes at the college level, and also at many high schools – especially in the sciences. Experts say different approaches to teaching large classes can help more students learn, and help them learn better.

Peer Instruction
Mazur now teaches all of his classes using a “peer-instruction” approach. Rather than teaching by telling, he teaches by questioning. Mazur says it’s a particularly effective way to teach large classes.

Here’s how he does it: Before each class, students are assigned reading in the textbook. Pretty standard for a lecture class, but if you talk to college students you’ll find that many of them don’t bother with the reading ahead of time. They come to class to figure out what information the professor thinks is important, then they go to the textbook to read up on what they didn’t understand.

A Clean Slate
The chancellor of the University of Minnesota Rochester is Stephen Lehmkuhle, a former administrator at the University of Missouri and a psychologist who spent much of his career studying how the brain processes information. He says advances in cognitive science over the past 30 years lead him to believe that colleges should radically rethink the way they deliver education. But universities are stubborn places where tradition and politics make it extremely difficult to make substantial changes in the way things are done.

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