The Biggest, Worst Classes

Lecture classes are bad. They’re impersonal, low-attendance activities in which neither the students nor the professors are invested. And students don’t learn much.

Probably more activity would improve this. According to a piece by Rosanne Skirble at Voice of America:

Researchers focused on two large introductory physics classes at the University of British Columbia in Canada which had more than 250 students in each section. Both classes were held in a theater-style room with fixed seats.

For one week, the control group was taught in the traditional lecture style by a well-rated, experienced instructor. However, in the experimental group, the more inexperienced instructor did not lecture. Instead, students were divided into groups of two or three to discuss and answer a series of questions, projected on a large screen.

The group that experimenters broke up into discussion sections did better, a lot better. According to the article “in a test of the material immediately following the experiment, students in the interactive class scored twice as high as those in the control section.”

This isn’t much of a surprise. We’ve known for years that large passive lecture-style courses don’t work that well.

The problem is that those courses are so cheap and easy to administer. It’s very tempting for colleges to try and pack hundreds of students into these courses. They pay the same amount whether they take small expensive courses or large cheap ones.

And if students don’t do well in these courses (and they don’t), well no problem. No one blames the school; it’s the students who didn’t study hard enough. Right?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer