Boring lectures in classrooms cause more failures, lesser grades
NEW DELHI: Classroom lectures cause more students to fail compared to interactive sessions involving discussions and problem solving in science, engineering and math courses, a new study in the US has found. Interactive sessions, also called ‘active learning’, improve exam performance too.
Those findings are from the largest and most comprehensive analysis ever published of studies comparing lecturing to active learning in undergraduate education, said Scott Freeman, a University of Washington principal lecturer in biology. He’s lead author of a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of May 12.
Freeman and his co-authors based their findings on 225 studies of undergraduate education across all of the “STEM” areas: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The researchers found that 55 per cent more students fail lecture-based courses than classes with at least some active learning.
On average across all the studies, a little more than one-third of students in traditional lecture classes failed — that is, they either withdrew or got Fs or Ds, which generally means they were ineligible to take more advanced courses. On average, with active learning, a little more than one-fifth of students failed.
“If you have a course with 100 students signed up, about 34 fail if they get lectured to but only 22 fail if they do active learning, according to our analysis,” Freeman said. “There are hundreds of thousands of students taking STEM courses in U.S. colleges every year, so we’re talking about tens of thousands of students who could stay in STEM majors instead of flunking out every year.”
Attempts by college faculty to use active learning, long popular in K-12 classrooms, started taking off in the mid-1990s, Freeman said, though lecturing still dominates.
“We’ve got to stop killing student performance and interest in science by lecturing and instead help them think like scientists,” he said.
Regarding grade improvement, the findings showed improvements on exams increased an average of 6 per cent, which might raise students half a grade, for example from a B+ to an A.
If the failure rates of 34 per cent for lecturing and 22 per cent in classes with some active learning were applied to the 7 million US undergraduates who say they want to pursue STEM majors, some 2.38 million students would fail lecture-style courses vs 1.54 million with active learning. That’s 840,000 additional students failing under lecturing, a difference of 55 percent compared to the failure rate of active learning.
“That 840,000 students is a large portion of the million additional STEM majors the president’s council called for,” Freeman said.