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Why Are Students So Passive and What Can Teachers Do About it?

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
1046

In Nunn's (1996) observational study of participation in college classrooms, on average less than 6 percent of class time involved student interaction. That's three minutes of student talk per 50 minutes of class time. 

 

Folks:

The brief posting below gives some thoughts on how to engage students more effectively in lecture classes.  It is from Chapter 4 Taking Stock of What Faculty Know About Student Learning, by Maryellen Weimer, professor emeritus of Teaching and Learning at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, in an excellent new book, Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, edited by Julia Christensen Hughes and Joy Mighty. Hughes is the past president of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and professor and dean of the College of Management and Economics at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Mighty is president of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and professor and director, Centre for Teaching and Learning at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

It is part of the Queen's Policy Studies Series, School of Policy Studies, Queens's University

McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal & Kingston - London - Ithaca. Copyright 2010 school of Policy Studies, Queen's University at Kingston, Canada. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT: Teaching the Millennial Generation

 

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Why Are Students So Passive and

What Can Teachers Do to Effectively Engage Them in the Learning Process?

 

Students are passive in part because instruction continues to be so didactic. A survey of 172,000 faculty in the US (nearly one out of every three) found that 76 percent list the lecture as their primary instructional method (Finkelstein, Seal, and Schuster 1998). Lectures can be engaging, but most encourage passivity with excessive amounts of teacher talk. In Nunn's (1996) observational study of participation in college classrooms, on average less than 6 percent of class time involved student interaction. That's three minutes of student talk per 50 minutes of class time.

So if teachers lectured less, what would students be doing in class? They could be learning from and with each other. The viability of group work, especially co-operate learning structures, is well documented by educational research. In the post-secondary arena, Springer, Stanne, and Donnovan's (1999) meta-analysis of studies on group work in math, science, and engineering disciplines showed these collective learning experiences positively affected academic achievement and persistence in college. Often, the case for students learning from and with each other is a hard sell in heavily content-oriented disciplines, but the evidence from research on student learning conducted in those fields verifies more generic findings. for example, in chemistry (and even though these studies were conducted within non-educational disciplines, they are well-designed and carefully executed educational studies), McCreary, Golde, and Koeske (2006) found that students in labs led by students (who had successfully completed the lab previously and were trained in conducting the labs) learned more than students in labs taught by instructors. Lewis and Lewis (2005) found that when one chemistry lecture per week was replaced by a guided discussion facilitated by peers, students in the discussion sections did not learn less (as measured by final exam scores), causing the researchers to conclude: "Fears that students who had less exposure to lecture would learn less proved to be groundless in this study" (p.139).

The case for active learning in general is made across a patchwork of different studies done by educational researchers as well as faculty researchers based in the disciplines. The diversity of the approaches used to study those methods that engage students makes them difficult to compare but Prince (2004) has done a masterful job of organizing and integrating this work. He concluded that "...there is broad but uneven support for the core elements of active, collaborative, co-operative and problem-based learning" (p.223). This support is not just for involvement in activity per se but substantiates that the various kinds of student engagement explored in these studies results in better learning -- whether that is longer retention of content, greater facility in applying what has been learned, or a deeper understanding of the content.

In sum, the propensity of students to sit back and have education "done unto them" is reinforced by the continued reliance on didactic instruction. Educational research of various sorts verifies that any number of different methods can successfully engage and involve students in learning. Use of these active learning approaches does not automatically sacrifice content knowledge of dilute the intellectual currency of a course.

REFERENCES

Finkelstein, M.J., R.K. Seal, and J. Schuster. 1998. The New Academic Generation: A Profession in Transformation. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

Lewis, S.E. and J.E. Lewis. 2005. Departing form Lectures: An Evaluation of a Peer-Led Guided Inquiry Alternative. Journal of Chemical Education 82(1):135-39.

McCeary, C.L., M.F. Golde, and R. Koeske. 2006. Peer Instruction in General Chemistry Laboratory: Assessment of Student Learning. Journal of Chemical Education 83(5):804-10.

Nunn, C.E. 1996. Discussion in the College Classroom: Triangulating Observational and Survey Results. Journal of Higher Education

67(3):243-66.

Prince, M. 2004. Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education 93(3);223-31.

Springer, L., M.E. Stanne, and S.S. Donovan. 1999. Effects of Small-Group Learning on Undergraduates in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research 69(1):21-51.