Letting Go of Lectures

The evidence against the effectiveness of lecturing for student learning is growing. A study published in Science describes the results of an experiment in a large introductory physics class at the University of British Columbia.

In week 12 of the semester, one section received traditional instruction from an experienced professor using lecture, PowerPoint, and clicker questions. Two inexperienced teachers trained in deliberative practice led another section using interactive exercises. The experimenters took care to establish ground rules for this learning contest. Both sets of instructors agreed on the learning objectives and a multiple choice quiz at the end of the week.

The results were not even close. The experimental group saw greater student engagement, attendance, and significantly higher scores on the post-test. The authors acknowledge that the intervention required significant outlay of time (20 hours of preparation for the first class), but gradually decreases over time. Moreover, students wished that the entire class were conducted using the interactive methods. The only barrier to change is inertia.


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