What if we flip the students instead of the classroom?

Image: via Pixabay CC0 1.0

The lecture has had a rough ride lately. It’s widely derided as outmoded and ineffective. It’s held up as unfair to students and as the work of lazy instructors. In the most recent defence of the lecture to make the rounds*, Molly Worthen even withdraws to a corner of the battlefield, willing to concede the uselessness of the lecture in the sciences even as she argues that it has a role to play in the humanities. Instead of lecturing, we’re told, we should be running group discussions, facilitating problem-based learning, asking students to think-pair-share, and (recently in vogue) flipping the classroom. Actually, I think all those things are good ideas. But the dismissal of instructors who give lecture waltzes right past a really important point about students who experience lectures.

Perhaps the most cutting insult to the lecture is this: approaches other than lecturing are often, collectively, referred to as “active learning”. This makes it quite clear that lectures are held to be passive. Sometimes that’s even explicit:

Active learning engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussion in class, as opposed to passively listening to an expert. (Freeman et al. 2014)

I have a big problem with this formulation. When we draw a distinction between lectures and “active learning”, we tell students that they’re expected to respond to the lecture by passive listening and nothing more.

I’d agree (surely we all would) that passive listening is an ineffective way to learn**. But why on earth should we conceptualize the lecture as a droning instructor and a room full of passive listeners? That’s certainly not what I expect of my students. When lecturing is the tool, I expect students to be full and active participants in the learning process. And how can a student do that? It’s no mystery. An actively learning student does the suggested reading and looks over the posted lecture materials before coming to class. They take notes during the lecture – not trying to record verbatim what’s said, but rather synthesizing and prioritizing material and connecting it to personal experience and material they’ve seen in other courses. They answer questions when the lecturer poses them, and they ask them when they’re curious or when something isn’t clear. They join (even instigate) in-class and after-class discussions. And after lecture, they return to the suggested readings again, this time with their lecture notes to compare and contrast, and discover new connections and new angles on the material***.

Hands up if you think I’m naïve. Thought so. Surely no student actually does all those things? Well, the best ones do; and when they do, they find the lecture part of an educationally rich experience. And this seems to be the real knock against the lecture: it works very well for some students, but it’s not effective for those who don’t do their part. So, should we abandon the lecture, or should we help students take advantage of it?

I propose a two-pronged campaign.

First, let’s stop calling lectures “lectures”, and start calling them “student-active, expert-mediated learning” – because that’s what they are. By doing so, we’ll signal that we’d like to flip student expectations about their participation in learning.

Second, let’s teach students how to learn from the lecture. I think many of us assume that we can lecture, and all the student activities I described above will just happen. I’ve made that assumption in the past, and have been annoyed to discover I was wrong – but I’ve realized that it isn’t fair to blame students for not meeting my assumptions. I now spend substantial class time telling students what I recommend they do outside class time, and why I recommend that they do it. But I shouldn’t be doing that in a 3rd-year course. Instead, we should be investing significant amounts of time in this with 1st-year students. Many universities offer a course (called University 101 or something similar) that teaches study and learning skills, but too often that course feels to both faculty and students like an afterthought. We should recognize that this course is as important to the degrees we offer as any content-based course – no, I take that back, it’s more important than any content-based course. We should invest in University 101: invest faculty time, yes; but also invest student credit-hours, because taking the course seriously means putting it into a major in place of, not in addition to, one of the many content-based courses typically fighting for inclusion.

Lectures (whoops, I mean student-active, expert-mediated learning) are here to stay. That’s partly because we’re inherently conservative creatures, and we’re all familiar with them from our own undergraduate days. But it’s also because, done well and with full participation from our students, they can work.

To be clear: none of this means we should ignore the possibility that lectures are less effective for disadvantaged and minority students. These students may need more help to take advantage of them. It also doesn’t mean we should abandon think-pair-share or problem-based learning or the flipped classroom. That would be no more helpful than banning the lecture. The toolbox is full; let’s use all the tools we find in it.

EDIT:  This post hasn’t been terribly successful in communicating its main message, because I muddled together several points and the subsidiary ones touch nerves.  I’ll leave it intact (so you can dissect the rhetoric as an exercise), but please read it with this in mind:

Subsidiary points: (1) There is lots of research showing that techniques other than the lecture are very effective.  (2) Some, but likely not all, pedagogy experts recommend retention of the lecture modality in combination with other techniques. (3) No matter what, students will still experience lectures for the foreseeable future.  (4) Good lectures with actively participating students are better than bad lectures, and may even be very good.

Main point: Much of the research on, and nearly all the lay discussion of, teaching methods conflates “lecture” with “students learning passively”.  I think this is a huge mistake, and one that does real damage to students in real educational contexts.

© Stephen Heard (sheard@unb.ca) November 3, 2015

It’s entirely possible I’m wrong about all this, and you should read some opposing (in whole or part) opinions. Here is Terry McGlynn’s Why I Avoid Lecturing, here’s Chris Buddle’s call to Ban the Lecture, Not the Laptop, here’s Derek Bruff’s take on Continuous Exposition by the Teacher, and here’s Anne Osterrieder’s reflection on how she was taught and how she wants to teach. It’s a start.


*There are plenty of such defences to be read; just google “In defence of the lecture” for a long list. And yet I’m writing this post anyway.

**If you’ve stood at the front of a classroom, you’ve seen that student: pencil down and notebook closed. And you’ve seen that student again, after the midterm exam, mystified by a low grade; and sometimes yet again, the next year in the same course, pencil still down and notebook still closed.

***Sure, you can give a lecture that doesn’t ask for this kind of active participation from students. You can follow a single textbook using its own sequencing and its own examples; prepared Powerpoint slides available from textbook publishers will even grease the rails of this particular mistake. But the fact that this is possible doesn’t make lecturing a bad idea, any more than the ability to play Justin Bieber very loudly makes your car stereo a bad idea.

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33 thoughts on “What if we flip the students instead of the classroom?

  1. Leonardo

    I’m in grad school, and I have a professor who tells us to NOT read the material beforehand, NOT to take notes during classes, and discourages asking questions. In the last class, he scolded us for “asking questions that had obvious answers”, and said that he wouldn’t answer them.

    I don’t know what to do about him or his classes. They’re awful, and absolutely de-motivating.

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    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Leonardo: as Jeremy (below) says, there’s no question that bad lecturers exist, and they’re the problem. Sounds like you’ve got yourself a bad one! You should absolutely discuss this with your advisor or your department Chair – even though there may be little they can do, it is always important to try.

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    2. Nick

      Your professor might simply be a bad teacher, or specifically one who doesn’t care about student learning.

      Does anyone know if there’s evidence that any beneficial effects of certain instructional methods observed when adopted by instructors open to new methods are also observed when the same methods are employed by an instructor who employs them only reluctantly or apathetically?

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  2. Jeremy Lundholm

    Great post, a breath of fresh air in this discourse. It’s not lectures that are the problem, it’s BAD lectures and BAD lecturing (and BAD lecturers?). Why else would TED talks, public lectures and departmental seminars still be popular? I fully endorse active learning, but some of the rhetoric is getting a bit extreme (see one quote by a participant in this study in Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/why-we-are-teaching-science-wrong-and-how-to-make-it-right-1.17963).

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  3. Chris Buddle

    Great post – I think my version of an ‘active learning lecture’ is the exact same thing as your SAEML lecture (student-active, expert-mediated learning). The root of the problem is that so many instructors are not inspired to change anything, and certainly don’t think about how/why students learn. Innovating a “traditional” lecture will inevitably lead to a more engaging classroom context, because innovation itself is rare (that is so very sad). Lectures themselves can be phenomenal, when done right.

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    1. Leonardo

      Yes, I have also had a few (maybe two or three) professors who gave wonderful lectures. One of them was the Classical Mechanics classes, and if you’re a physicist, you’ll know that this course is hell on Earth. Luckily, my professor didn’t use slides, he used the good and old chalk and board, and was always pushing us to a clear understanding of the subject. He was the best lecturer I had in my undergrad years.

      Unfortunately, most of them are too lazy to make a change. The professor that I mention in my previous comment is using the same PowerPoint/Keynote slides for almost a decade, I presume. By the way, just to put a cherry on top of it, he is also a climate change denier, as I discovered last week.

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  4. peternewbury

    I totally agree that “synthesizing and prioritizing material and connecting it to personal experience and material they’ve seen in other courses” is critical to learning – that’s what constructivism is all about and exactly what they advocate in “How People Learn.” My question for you is, *when* do students have time to do this during an extended lecture. In real-time as they’re listening and taking notes? That’s asking a lot.

    Advocates for active learning, and I freely admit I’m one of them, are not saying abandon the lecture completely. We’re saying deliver the lecture component, taking the opportunity to model expert-like thinking and communication, when students are “prepared to learn”: they’ve been exploring, uncovering, practicing, dissecting, even struggling with concepts, their curiosity is piqued, and they want to hear an expert’s take on it. Toggle back and forth between lecture and active learning – 5 min active for every 10-15 min a lecture, say – to give students time to “synthesize and prioritize material and connect it to personal experience and material they’ve seen in other courses” and then get immediate, formative feedback from peers, TAs, and the instructor.

    Active learning supports the lecture and lecture supports the active learning. That’s what we’re proposing. And that, as shown by Freeman et al, enhances student learning and significantly decreases the drop/fail/withdraw rates especially by women and underrepresented minorities in STEM.

    Peter

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    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Thanks, Peter – a much better reasoned position than “ban the lecture”, and one I can certainly get behind. Techniques for getting the students to do their part of learning-through-lecture should certainly include the kinds of things you mention. Piquing curiosity is worth a lot!

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    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Exactly the point I both hoped and feared somebody would make! You are right, of course – we should be doing science on this, and of course, people are. I will admit right up front that I have not read this literature exhaustively. What I have read has disappointed me a bit, in the way I’m trying to get at in the post: it seems we do a whole of of contrasting “passive lecture where students just sit and listen” with “flipped classroom” or “small-group discussion” or whatever. I’ve not found it as easy to see whether people have seriously tried, or evaluated, interventions on behaviour of students in the way they receive lectures. It’s hard to believe that isn’t out there, so it may be that such studies just don’t make the outside-education-pedagogy-research-circles headlines as much. So I’ve been somewhat frustrated by what I’ve had access to, and frustrated too that I don’t have time to undertake a serious literature review of my own.

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  6. andreakirkwood

    As someone whom is always trying to improve my teaching (I am definitely a work in progress), I look to the pedagogical literature to guide me in the right direction. Like you Stephen, I am often left a bit disappointed that I can’t find studies directly relevant to my situation (at least for some of my courses). Many of the active learning/flipped classroom approaches require a lot of work to design and implement. This in itself is not a bad thing, but at many universities, the resources (mainly human) are not available to support the optimal execution of these types of course delivery models (including assessments too). I’m in a situation where I have no tutorials and limited TA hours for my growing third-year courses. There is also a push to have more hybrid courses due to space constraints. This means a class only meets once a week. I just find it is getting harder to apply active learning techniques (e.g., group work/presentations) with limited in-class time. I am also now looking for alternative ways to get the students more engaged in the material, especially if they are expected to get most of the “lecture” material from online videos. I have been using the in-class time for case-studies and discussions, but with a growing class size this is getting a bit unwieldy and active participation more difficult. I guess my point in a nutshell is that I think most instructors that care about teaching and learning would agree that active learning is the way to go. However, what doesn’t get discussed much is how to apply many of these active learning/class flipping techniques without the human, technical and space resources required. This is why I really appreciate your “toolbox” analogy because sometimes you need to change or mix your tools as the teaching environment changes.

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    1. Peter Newbury (@polarisdotca)

      @ andreakirkwood I’ll be honest: creating effective, active learning is hard work. Not only do you need to (1) develop the content but
      (2) create/design/adapt the active learning activities (making up peer instruction questions, creating worksheets, writing discussion prompts,…) and
      (3) planning how you’ll “choreograph” the activity in class in a way that gives *every* student equal opportunity to participate and contribute, not just the students in the front row and not just the students who already have the skills to function in an academic setting. I can’t recommend highly enough this fantastic paper by Sarah Eddy and Kelly Hogan (2014) “Getting under the hood” in CBE-Life Sciences Education

      So yeah, a lot of work. But it’s a lot easier the 2nd year.

      And leading an effective, active class is so much fun to teach. You know precious those “golden moments” where you see students change right before your eyes? You can do that every single day. That’s a drug that keeps you coming back to class 🙂

      Peter

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      1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

        Peter – I hear “active learning is hard work” an awful lot, and of course this implies that giving good lectures is not. (Remembering of course that those lectures may be part of a multi-tool approach). This seems odd. I figure on ~10 hours of hard work to prep 1 hour worth of lecture (the first time; like anything else, this pays off later). I don’t think I put in 30 hours of hard work to prep a 3-hour lab. That may not be the right comparison – labs are surely active learning, but they’re not what people want to replace the lecture with. So: none of this has any relevance to what blend of techniques works best in what situation, but if people who move to (poorly named) “active learning” are finding it a lot harder, it really makes me wonder what they were doing before! Any thoughts on this?

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        1. peternewbury

          Preparing a course the first time is hard work, no matter how you teach. But if someone is ready to invest 10 hrs per hour of class, that’s more than enough time to integrate active learning. That is, you don’t need to prep 10 hrs and then another 5 hrs for the active part.

          For example, let’s suppose you want to use peer instruction (PI) with clickers. To make time for PI in class, you need to “flip” and push some content to the students to complete before class. That’s material you don’t have to prep (ie, make PPT slides for). Next, you identify what concepts (or learning outcomes) you want to explore with PI. Instead of creating a series of slides, you craft a good PI question, anticipate how they’ll vote, and maybe create an extra slide or two in case the students don’t get completely where you wanted. And so on.

          It’s not preparing more, it’s preparing differently. Active learning doesn’t supplement the lecture, it replaces it.

          Peter

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          1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

            I think we are making the same point here – other techniques are not necessarily more (or less) work than the lecture. Can I make one more pitch here, though, for us to stop conflating “lecture” with “students are learning passively”? Your last sentence, Peter, is something that I recognize is just deployment of the standard terminology – but that standard terminology is really unfortunate, and does a real disservice to students who experience lectures – as most will. That’s what I intended as the whole point of my post, although admittedly I muddied the waters a bit..

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      2. andreakirkwood

        Hi Peter, I agree with everything you have written. I am actually a big advocate of active learning approaches and employ them. What I wish would be discussed is how, for some of us, it gets harder to execute these same techniques with a growing class size. With budget cuts, there aren’t necessarily added resources given to instructors to maintain their preferred mode of delivery, which compounds the problem. In my own reading of the literature (which is not exhaustive), active-learning/flipped classrooms for large class sizes seems to require extra resources (e.g. clickers and TAs). If you could guide me to literature or resources that provide tips and guidance on maintaining a completely active-learning environment for larger classes not requiring tutorials and TAs (and increased assessments), that would be helpful.

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  7. Pingback: Why I avoid lecturing | Small Pond Science

  8. Elizabeth Moon

    Back in my student days (that’s, um, more than 50 years ago) lecture dominated and “active learning” was left to lab sections and art classes. Having had lecture-dominated classes all through school (with textbooks–no movies, no slides, no tapes, no calculators, no nuthin’ in modern terms) I came to university prepared to sit in a chair or on a bench and listen…and considered it my responsibility to figure out how what was said was relevant to other things I had learned, or to my life in general. Lecture worked for me if the prof wasn’t an utter dud (freshman calculus prof was an utter dud. Freshman history prof was brilliant, and freshmen chemistry prof not far from brilliant. Moving on, now…)

    Later in life I taught various things at various levels (as a private tutor, as a volunteer in a public school, in writers’ workshops, etc.) and quickly discovered that not all students can learn the same set of facts, or skills, or connections with the same approach. This culminated in discovering that our adopted child was autistic and the local school system (tiny, rural) had nothing in the way of spec ed skills. (“Will he be quiet and stay in his seat and by the way he’s holding the pencil wrong.”) So 12 years experience home-schooling an autistic kid with other disabilities who, as an adult, is now taking classes at a community college and passing more than half of them. Some (like Spanish!) to my total surprise. (He still can’t hold a normal conversation unless you’re very, very, very patient.)

    I think using a variety of approaches, and being aware of how students are progressing–recognizing that deer-in-the-headlights stare of panic, that glazed-over-dull gaze that means “I haven’t understood anything in 15 minutes; I give up”–are very important if you want to get the most into each student. Being excited about your own subject–and being willing to acknowledge when you’re not getting through and not blame the students–very important.

    Learn enough about any student having trouble so that you can demonstrate how connections to their life could work. I once taught a student who could not grasp positive and negative numbers–but who was a competitive swimmer and diver. I used the water level as zero,..and before I could “explain” any more, she got it. “OH! If I add a negative number to a negative number it’s like going deeper! And a positive number and a negative number it’s like…if the negative one is bigger I’ll be underwater by the difference.” “You are so smart,” I told her. Another who could not grasp converting percentages to decimals and back again…to her they were two different mutually exclusive things…worked in a dress shop on weekends and was passionate about fashion. She could calculate discounts and profit margins in a flash. “So–if a $35 dress was 20% off, it would cost me–??” The light bulb went off. No further problems. (Why the heck her mother, who had been a teacher, didn’t think of using that I do not know.) Both these kids (and others I tutored) needed only one or two connections made to their own interests before they started making them for themselves. But they had the idea that what they wanted to know, and what school taught, were mutually incompatible…swimming couldn’t have any connection to math, fashion couldn’t have any connection to history (another blank spot for the fashion-interested one), English literature or writing had nothing to do with sports. Once they knew how to look for relevance, it was as obvious to them as to me.

    Lectures are not evil. Computers, movies, teams, conversations are not the one single answer. The kind of education most college profs hope their students end up with is one that continues active learning through life–and it makes use of every possible source of information, from the guy on the bus that you find out cleans out septic tanks or the woman at the next table in a restaurant who is talking about the organic chemistry in a way that finally hits the one thing that puzzled you in class five years before….to books, television, blogs, Twitter posts, YouTube demonstrations of everything from turning the heel of a sock to how to put up an indoor hammock so it won’t fall down to how to read tracks in the snow. You want students to be able to learn from anything, everything–what they see in their neighborhood, what they hear, or read, or listen to–you want them to hold it in mind and compare it to everything else–to know how to recognize good sources, and why they’re good…and so on. You want them to learn when they’re alone–stuck in bed with an injury, isolated by some economic or political or other problem. To enjoy learning and thinking as one of the great recreations of a human being. So use everything you can think of, and observe how it’s working and with whom. And along with College 101 (great idea; wish we’d had it) have a senior level course on how to continue learning on your own and why that’s a great idea. Because life throws you curve balls and the ground disappears from under your feet and if you’re used to looking for opportunities–you’re more likely to find them. (Says a 70 year old woman who is still passionately engaged with learning and downright delighted that the universe is so big and so full of things to learn that she cannot possibly, ever, know all about anything. I will never run out of stuff to learn.)

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  9. Weekademia

    Regarding ‘University 101’, I couldn’t agree more. We teach both academic and research skills; but they need to be planned around assessment etc and not just delivered at the very beginning – unless they need those particular skills at that exact moment in time it just doesn’t sink in.

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  10. Gabriel Yospin

    Thanks for the interesting post. I have not studied the education research extensively, either, but I have studied it a bit. Here are a few thoughts, based on what you wrote.

    First, like many people who have been successful in academia, I have been quite successful at learning from lectures and self-directed readings. (Or, at least, relatively successful, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.) We academics don’t actually receive formal training in teaching techniques, so it’s natural that we would use the techniques that we have experience with, and that worked for us.

    Second, one thing that learners like me do is read actively, and listen actively. I suspect that you all know what I’m talking about, but this can manifest as taking notes, mouthing along with dialogue, etc. Some people do this naturally, some people can learn this as a skill, but learners do this to varying degrees. Your suggestion about University 101 could help bring more students up to a higher skill level at active reading and listening. I think that’s worth pursuing.

    Here’s the third thing, though: what if learners like me, who learn well from traditional lectures, might learn better some other way? Research in education, psychology, and more recently in specific academic disciplines has shown this to be the case. That research goes back decades – although perhaps not in your particular discipline – but a good, simple example is available at this link:

    https://www.ncsu.edu/per/SCALEUP/ConceptualLearning.html

    What the research shows is that active learning techniques benefit all students – not just those underrepresented in the sciences. This includes the best students at the best institutions. I wasn’t the best student at the best institution, but I was a good student at a good institution, and I did relatively well. But what if different teaching techniques could have helped me do better in absolute terms?

    I conceptualize this research like this: I might be the strongest guy at my gym, lifting weights the way I learned to lift weights from my coach, who learned how to lift from his coach, going back 200 years. I might tell everyone that they have to lift the same way that I do. They might look at my big muscles and follow my advice. But that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t be stronger with a different training program, different diet, and different mindset – and those changes might tend to benefit other people as well. If there were hundreds of human physiology research labs around the world that had been conducted research for decades, indicating better lifting techniques for me to use, I like to think that I would use those demonstrably more effective techniques.

    So, why do we keep using old techniques that are demonstrably inferior? Well, that’s a pretty philosophical question, but given that this is a low risk forum, I’ll take a stab at that, too. First, change would require that current practitioners acknowledge that they could be doing something better, which few people like to admit. Second, it would require work, which few people like to volunteer for. I also think that, strangely, academics are often dismissive of fields other than their own discipline, assuming that those fields are likely quite simple. (See https://xkcd.com/793/ concerning physicists.) It’s a bizarre manifestation of an appeal to ignorance that I don’t think any academic would tolerate for her own field, but I often see us applying it other fields. I may have even done this myself. Beyond those, though, I have always perceived a curmudgeonly attitude, along the lines of “it was good enough for me, so it should be good enough for students nowadays!” But what if you, or I, could have been a better, smarter, more creative scientist? What if we could have a society with more trained scientists, where each scientist is more capable than they otherwise would have been? That seems like a desirable outcome to me. We have decades of research telling us how to achieve that outcome. I think that we should go for it.

    I am happy to provide more citations if anyone is interested.

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  12. Brian McGill

    A really great post.
    I 100% believe that we have to stop treating all lectures as equal and as equal to the worst stereotyped monotone droned lecture. I for one believe I have a very dialog-based “lecture”. It takes a couple of weeks to establish in a class, but I regularly have students interrupt me to ask questions mid-lecture. Which is pretty much prima facie evidence that they are thinking and actively learning. And when I ask a question and wait until I get 5 or so answers and discuss them, I’m pretty sure a lot of active thinking is happening even if it doesn’t happen to be a class where I use clickers or a question where I take the time to do pair&share.

    I also really wanted to double down on your point about teaching students how to take responsibility for learning. A light bulb went off for me when teaching BIO 100 I realized I was teaching study skills as much as biology. Anybody who has worked in the real world, have you ever been handed a book or manual or video and been told to go read/watch it and then come back with questions? Probably the answer is about 100% yes. Learning to learn on your own is an essential career skill. Maybe the single most important thing we teach at a university.

    And here are a few more comments that I posted first on DE in response to Jeremy’s link to this post:

    I’m also reminded of research in other fields. In psychotherapy (a career my wife has spent time in), there was a big study on which modality of therapy worked the best (Freudian, cognitive, behavioral, narrative, etc). The answer that came back: the effect size of the individual therapist swamped which mode worked best. And in primary education, a professor in New Zealand (Hattie) has essentially pulled off a meta-analysis of meta-analyses of all research education examining 138 different teaching practices. He then broadly divides these practices into 4 categories: a) effect size greater than effect size of teacher, b) effect size of same magnitude of effect size of teacher,c) effect size positive but smaller than effect size of teacher (also =null model of don’t do any teaching for a year and come back when they’re a year older), and d) effect size negative. Only a small handful of practices are in category (a) and many of them are super obvious and fundamental like specialized teaching for students with learning disabilities or accelerated classrooms for gifted students or keep the classroom under control or staff development (=train the teachers).

    I strongly suspect that a good lecture is still a lot better than a bad active learning class. And for what its worth the Freeman et al 2014 analysis of Cohen d=0.47 puts active learning squarely in category (b) from above (assuming effect sizes in primary schools carry over to university education) so it clearly is worth taking note of. But it does not swamp teacher vs teacher variation. So its consistent with the idea that a good lecture is better than a bad active learning class. And its not like active learning is going to cause people 20 years from now to go “woah – college students are so much better trained now” (of course that is not what its proponents claim either)

    It would be really nice if there was a silver bullet to make all classes scintillating with maximum student achievement. Which is what the “it is unethical …” quote suggests. But if we really want to be serious about what research shows, then what it really shows is the best way to get that perfect classroom would be hire for teaching ability, invest a lot of time in training professors to teach on an ongoing basis, and reduce class sizes. And that has a lot of implications nobody wants to talk about. Especially at a research university.

    That said, its not an excuse for faculty to laze around and throw up the same powerpoints they used 10 years ago and ignore all possibility of new techniques that are beneficial.

    I also hope that future research really takes the Hawthorne effect seriously (brought up in the comments on the The Little Professor post. In industrial engineering it is fairly notorious – any change produces a positive effect for a while. Make lights brighter and productivity goes up. 2 years later make lights dimmer and productivity goes up. For myself this is my main pedagogical direction – keep it new.

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    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Thanks, Brian! As I said on DE, your point about effect size is an interesting one and one I hadn’t thought enough about. You dialog-heavy lecture is I think exactly what I’m talking about. Students are being active!

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  14. namnezia

    I agree with what you write here. I teach a large life-sciences class and I find it hard to design “flipped” approaches I’m happy with that logistically make sense with the class time period, space where class is taught, the material itself and the level of the students. And so in many cases I’ve found that the lecture is the most effective way of teaching the material, especially to a large class. I agree the lecture doesn’t have to be boring or droning or at all passive – one can do things like poll the students, take a few minutes to go over thought experiments that address the content I’ve just spoken about and then discuss them in class, etc. Just because it is a large lecture does not mean learning is passive. I’ve also found that having “active” post-lecture assignments that make the students draw together the lecture concepts and use them (ie. online experimental simulations, etc.) helps cement further what they have learned. I totally agree that we have a lot of different tools and that we should pick and choose which ones are the most appropriate for a given class situation and deploy them accordingly. This can be way more effective than relegating lectures to videos (which nobody will watch), giving a little quiz (which doesn’t really tell you how good their understanding is) and then spending the class solving problems (during which it is just as easy to tune out). Flipped approaches for the sake of flipped approaches can be equally dogmatic and ineffective as a badly given lecture.

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