Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Swansong for lecture halls?

Remember all those big lectures you attended as a student? Up to 250 students packed into a big hall listening to a professor lecturing for about an hour with only a blackboard for reinforcement. How many of those sessions were real learning experiences? Of course, there were a few professors who really could talk, inspire and were worth listening to. However there were many more who were showed little or no interest in who they were talking to. This model of teaching has been unchanged through the centuries and is still the dominant teaching form at many schools and colleges. It is indeed seldom challenged even though we all know how limited the method is for real learning.

However things seem to be changing quite rapidly now and the universities themselves are taking action. I recently saw an advertising campaign from Kaplan University in the USA where the official college films clearly state that the traditional lecture form is not relevant for 21st century education. There's also an older and often cited film on YouTube, A vision of students today, that also questions the value of traditional teaching.

Now there's a fascinating story in the New York Times 12 January, At MIT large lectures are going the way of the blackboard. Over recent years attendances at introductory science lectures have been falling sharply and failure rates were on the up. Now they have abandoned the traditional mass introductory lectures in physics and replaced them with interactive collaborative learning. The method has been labelled at MIT as TEAL, Technology Enhanced Active Learning. Students work in small groups solving problems set by the teacher who spends the session moving from group to group assisted by a number of graduate students. The sessions are held in modern multimedia rooms with large screens, smartboards etc.

Interestingly there was student resistance to these changes at first but once in operation the new methods have raised pass rates and attendances are up 80%. Students learn so much more and are in charge of their learning from the start. Teachers are also directly involved in practical teaching and mentoring from the word go and establish direct contact with students instead of just seeing a sea of faces.

No comments:

Post a Comment