Don't you lecture me!
Readers will perhaps recall that I taught a history course last spring on European integration -- rather pertinent, as recent events reveal -- and that I used an innovative (for me) technique. Rather than lecture -- which I knew from experience would be a waste of time (me speaking English to a class for whom it's mostly a second language) -- I divided the class into nine groups of about six students each and had them spend the first twenty minutes discussing several questions that had been posted online a couple of days before. We then followed this with about forty minutes of class-wide discussion. The process worked much better, I thought, than any lecture that I'd ever given. But that was merely my impression, one unbased on hard evidence.
Now, however, I have some factual evidence, quantitative even! Emily Hanford, for NPR, tells us in "Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool" (January 1, 2012) that discussion is the best method:
[Eric] Mazur's physics class is now different. Rather than lecturing, he makes his students do most of the talking.That's the hard part, getting them to prepare! But if they do, this method works wonders. Of course, the results are different for history, compared to physics, but the students do learn to develop their ideas and analysis through discussion, which leads to improved research papers, due to better developed views.
At a recent class, the students -- nearly 100 of them -- are in small groups discussing a question. Three possible answers to the question are projected on a screen. Before the students start talking with one another, they use a mobile device to vote for their answer. Only 29 percent got it right. After talking for a few minutes, Mazur tells them to answer the question again.
This time, 62 percent of the students get the question right. Next, Mazur leads a discussion about the reasoning behind the answer. The process then begins again with a new question. This is a method Mazur calls "peer Instruction." He now teaches all of his classes this way.
"What we found over now close to 20 years of using this approach is that the learning gains at the end of the semester nearly triple," he says.
One value of this approach is that it can be done with hundreds of students. You don't need small classes to get students active and engaged. Mazur says the key is to get them to do the assigned reading -- what he calls the "information-gathering" part of education -- before they come to class.
I'd write more on this topic, but I'm using a different computer than my own, familiar one because of internet-link problems this morning, so go to the link to learn more.