yup, lecturing is lame

Over the course of my life, I have shifted from a highly conventional view of education to a highly skeptical view. Like most young people, I thought that most educational practices were adequate. Now, I think that that many pedagogical practices are not supported by data. For example, new research that encourages me toward the extreme – a new meta-analysis of studies shows that straight up lecturing is inferior to interactive learning. From Science:

To weigh the evidence, Freeman and a group of colleagues analyzed 225 studies of undergraduate STEM teaching methods. The meta-analysis, published online today in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that teaching approaches that turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams by almost one-half a standard deviation. “The change in the failure rates is whopping,” Freeman says. And the exam improvement—about 6%—could, for example, “bump [a student’s] grades from a B– to a B.”

I’m persuaded.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 20, 2014 at 12:25 am

Posted in education, fabio

19 Responses

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  1. what is interactive learning. examples?



    May 20, 2014 at 1:55 am

  2. Ranges from the obvious (having students answer questions) to using clickers for quizzes to having projects. In other words, the “I will talk and then test” is the default.



    May 20, 2014 at 2:00 am

  3. What does it mean to use clickers for quizzes? I haven’t heard of that.



    May 20, 2014 at 2:02 am

  4. You show a question on the screen and then students are given clickers. They then click the multiple choice answer and their grade is recorded.



    May 20, 2014 at 2:05 am

  5. The revolution in active learning started at least several decades ago, in K-12 & then community colleges. Eventually, it made its way up the hierarchy to colleges & then research universities. They are 100s of books and 1000s of articles on why focusing on LEARNING versus teaching makes the most sense.

    Here’s a short note, excerpted from a book published by Josse-Bass (which publishes tons of stuff in this area), that conveys the flavor of this approach::

    It is great to see Fabio calling people’s attention to this development. Most professors have no training in teaching/learning, subscribe to no relevant journals, don’t go to workshops on the topic, etc. Despite this, the active learning movement is spreading! Join it!


    Howard Aldrich

    May 20, 2014 at 2:20 am

  6. On that note, I have had great success teaching Weberian rationalization and bureaucracy using the McDonaldization activities Howard Aldrich wrote about with Stephen Lippman:

    Students go observe a fast food restaurant. Beforehand, they predict what they will see. After, they talk about how accurate their predictions were and how McDonald’s can be understood in Ritzer’s and Weber’s terms. They quickly get what is a very abstract concept, and are able to apply it to other kinds of organizations throughout the semester. I usually start my undergraduate orgs class with this exercise. So thank you, Howard!



    May 20, 2014 at 3:06 am

  7. Alternate post title: yup, worksheets are awesome

    Of the 136 discrete interventions coded as “active learning”, 58% were worksheets.

    90 out of 154 interventions coded as worksheets, with a further 18 interventions coded as “multiple”, which could also have included worksheets. Interventions coded as “quizzing” (n=5) seem they may have included worksheets, too, as only in-class activities were kept in the sample.

    Most-case scenario, 113 / 154 (73%) of interventions involved worksheets.



    May 20, 2014 at 3:25 am

  8. Nick, if improving student learning is as simple as worksheets (which were very rare in my college classes), then we should be grateful. Simple, cheap and effective.



    May 20, 2014 at 3:27 am

  9. Fabio, I agree.

    It seems the STEM fields might ‘leapfrog’ these active learning techs, though, and go straight to online ed that integrates skills assessment in real-time for each student.

    STEM fields seem most poised for eliminating not just straight-up lectures but classroom meetings of any format.

    I endured a worksheet-less econometrics semester in which a tenured professor read Microsoft Word documents from a projector screen for two hours at a time. That seems a ludicrous tradition in a YouTube world.

    However, the social consequences for students could be rough and lead to drop outs, counteracting the assessment effect.



    May 20, 2014 at 3:44 am

  10. Nick – there is an interesting trend. Some folks are arguing for “flipped” classes where you watch the lecture on your own time and the class is for exercises.



    May 20, 2014 at 3:46 am

  11. Funny, clickers are passe at my university. Flipping is all the rage, or at least that’s what’s being pushed by the teaching center. (The sole instructor I know who tried it concluded that flipping was a flop, but that’s an n of 1.) I suspect there could be an interesting orgs paper, or at least a good orgs exam question, about the diffusion of teaching fads and how it does or does not mimic the diffusion of managerial fads.

    Howard, I know you’ve been active in this area for a while. Can you (or anyone) recommend any articles that talk specifically about active learning techniques for 200+ student classes that meet in “old school” lecture halls (tiered seating, fixed desks that all face forward and are bolted to the floor, etc)? 100+ students per TA, so neither small sections nor weekly graded writing assignments are realistic.



    May 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

  12. Team Based Learning by Larry Michaelsen and his team is a good active learning method.


    amer khan

    May 20, 2014 at 11:47 am

  13. @krippendorf: In my large classes, I moved from clickers to PollEverywhere to TopHat, which allows a bit more flexibility and costs students less. I use those for daily quizzes, surveys, temperature readings of the class, checking understanding, etc.

    I also include “In Your Notes” slides where I’ll write a prompt and have students apply something we’ve learned earlier that day on the spot. If I have time, I’ll call on a few people to give examples. This lets me (and them) see if they got it and others to hear a few more examples of it and/or corrections of mistakes they might have made themselves. Including some of these concepts in the first exam makes students see the utility of these exercises and ensures that most are actually writing things in their notes when they’re prompted to.

    I also take advantage of the course webpage to post examples of the things we’re talking about and encourage students to participate (sometimes for credit, sometimes for extra-credit, sometimes just because) by posting examples (I use a lot of media examples in my class), submitting exam questions (that others can use as a study guide and I can use on the exam if I wish), etc. Once again, drawing on these on exams makes students take them more seriously. It also gives them voice, encouraging participation.

    Small group work can very easily be done in those tiered classrooms if the groups are small enough. That breaks up lecture, gives students a more engaged setting, and reduces grading by cutting the class size into 1/2, 1/3, or 1/4.

    Although not exactly related to active learning, I walk around the classroom – up the stairs and down them, around the back, etc. to help keep students engaged – and ban laptops/tablets/etc. except in cases of a documented need for an accommodation.



    May 20, 2014 at 12:47 pm

  14. @krippendorf asked for a resource re large flipped classrooms. My psychology colleague here at UNC, Viji Sathy, has been a local pioneer in experimenting with alternative formats. Here’s a very informative PDF from her Psych 101 course:

    Click to access Psychology210Sathy.pdf

    Interestingly, the natural sciences at UNC are way out ahead of the other divisions in moving to active learning, including flipped classrooms. (Actually, I prefer the generic “active learning” to “flipped,” b/c it more accurately conveys what instructors are trying to do.) The chemistry & biology departments have told junior hires that they WILL be teaching with an active learning style — no more “stand & deliver” type big lecture classes. We’ve had workshops from natural sciences’ instructors about what they’re doing. Very exciting stuff for a Research I university!

    On my website, I’ve posted stuff on active learning, but haven’t kept it up to date. However, if you want to see where we’ve been, you could have a look at it:

    My strongest recommendation: get to know the staff at your local Teaching & Learning Center. Almost all colleges & universities have them, and they’re eager to hear from prospective clients (which is what they call us).


    Howard Aldrich

    May 20, 2014 at 1:27 pm

  15. Being at a SLAC, I’ve enjoyed watching the fads of clickers, flipping the classroom, active learning, etc. Some of the rhetoric and techniques do penetrate here, but for the most part we keep on as we have for over a century – small classes, seminar style discussion, and lecture-labs. It strikes me that most teaching “innovations” are really ways of importing the liberal arts style into larger university classrooms.



    May 20, 2014 at 6:53 pm

  16. cwalken: more precisely, trying to figure out how to foster “active learning” under the physical and budget constraints of a large public university with class sizes in the hundreds.



    May 20, 2014 at 11:52 pm

  17. olderwoman: Amendment accepted. My institution is one of those with a 2-2 load and an endowment measured in billions, so our dilemmas are not the dilemmas of even other liberal arts schools.



    May 21, 2014 at 5:11 am

  18. The evidence for clicker use and other forms of repeated testing comes from this study:


    Chris M

    May 21, 2014 at 8:22 pm

  19. If you click on the URL to the Science magazine article, be sure to read the followup comments. A group of critics questioned the study design.


    Howard Aldrich

    May 22, 2014 at 6:52 pm

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