Did you ever fall asleep in class during a lecture? Don’t feel bad, it’s been happening since the lecture was invented. Look at the 14th-century painting of a lecture above. That guy in blue with the sweet headband is totally napping.
But maybe it wasn’t entirely your fault.
A recent study has shown that undergraduate students subjected to traditional lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students taught by more active learning methods.
“Universities were founded in Western Europe in 1050 and lecturing has been the predominant form of teaching ever since,” says biologist Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle, but others have argued for a more active way.
Freeman and his colleagues did a meta-analysis of 225 studies of teaching methods in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) courses, and found that teachers who made students active participants with questions and group activities had more success.
“The change in the failure rates is whopping,” Freeman says. And the exam improvement—about 6%—could, for example, “bump [a student’s] grades from a B– to a B.”
Freeman has taken his findings to heart and changed his own teaching style, using handheld clickers that students click to answer a question and other techniques.
“For the ultimate class session—I don’t say lecture—I’m showing PowerPoint slides, but everything is a question and I use clickers and random calling. Somebody droning on for 15 minutes at a time and then doing cookbook labs isn’t interesting,” Freeman said.
The dry lecture is probably not likely to die off any time soon, but hopefully more teachers will embrace active learning methods as a result of this study. And more students can get through a class without massive amounts of caffeine.
Image by Laurentius de Voltolina