Should we ask or should we tell?

Article by Freeman et al., 2014, “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics”.

Following up on the difficulties in asking good questions described yesterday, I’m today presenting an article on the topic “should we ask or should we tell?”.

Spoiler alert – the title says it all: “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics”. Nevertheless, the recent PNAS-article by Freeman et al. (2014) is really worth a read.

In their study, Freeman and colleagues meta-analyzed 225 studies that compared student learning outcomes across science, technology, engineering and mathmatics (STEM) disciplines depending on whether students were taught through lectures or through active learning formats. On average, examination scores increased by 6% under active learning scenarios, and students in classes with traditional lecture formats were 1.5 times more likely to fail than those in active learning classes.

These results hold for all STEM disciplines and through all class sizes, although it seems most effective for classes with less than 50 students. Active learning also seems to have a bigger effect on concept inventories than on traditional examinations.

One interesting point the authors raise in their discussion is whether for future research, traditional lecturing is still a good control, or whether active learning formats should be directly compared to each other.

Also, the impact of instructor behavior and of the amount of time spent on “active learning” are really interesting future research topics. In this study, even lectures with only as little as 10-15% of their time devoted to clicker questions counted as “active”, and even a small – and doable – change like that has a measurable effect.

I’m really happy I came across this study – really big data set (important at my work place!), rigorous analysis (always important of course) and especially Figure 1 is a great basis for discussion about the importance of active learning formats and it will go straight into the collection of slides I have on my whenever I go into a consultation.

Check out the study, it is really worth a read!

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