Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ARR, MOAR!.. or: "active" = passive.

one of these days i'll start posting regularly again .. and about research too.

until that day comes, however, readers of this blog will have to suffer through the occasional repost about maths education, like this one:

"Lectures Aren't Just Boring, They're Ineffective, Too, Study Finds" by a. bajak @science

The meta-analysis, published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that teaching approaches that turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams by almost one-half a standard deviation.

i don't doubt that active learning causes students to retain information and to improve their understanding of the concepts of the course.

my contention is that the only novelty of this teaching style is that it institutionalises what students should already be doing:


you see, it's been suggested that today's college students simply don't hit the books as often as previous generations. when i was an undergrad, i was told that 1 credit hour translates to 2 hours of self-study outside of the classroom, in order to keep up with the class.

(by this rule, a full-time student with four 3-credit courses should be studying 24 hours per week; combined with class times, this should be close to the hours for a full-time job .. which is exactly how seriously college should be treated by college students.)

to me, what active learning amounts to is ..

(a) moving the act of self-study from the student's prerogative to inside of the classroom,

(b) eliminating the temptation of distraction (from tv, internet, dorm buddies) by forcing the student to focus on clear goals with immediate rewards/punishments.

in other words, active learning caters to the modern, distracted, undisciplined mind. they are bringing studying back into college by rebranding it as a new, structured feature of a course.

to their credit, proponents of this method are being efficient. I have no doubt that this does encourage (read: force) students to study, inside and outside of the classroom ..

.. but it does so, at the cost of maintaining the status-quo of short attention spans and immediate gratification, while further reducing personal responsibility.

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