NY Times on Large Lectures

I’m sure many have seen “At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard?” by Sara Rimer in the 13-Jan-09 New York Times (p. A12); it’s worth sharing again here. Here’s an excerpt.

“The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.”

Such a change was hastened by a $10M donation. Food for thought.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to NY Times on Large Lectures

  1. Elisabeth Gareis says:

    I find it amazing that the failure rate dropped at MIT. Let’s hear it for interactive, collaborative learning!

  2. susan chambre says:

    The ‘small claas’ as I recall included 80 students. Not many fewer than many of our ‘large lectures.’

    What needs to be noted is that in many institutions, collaborative learning and discussions are led by graduate students in discussion sections. The lectures feature experienced faculty.

    Here at Baruch, we have numerous courses solely taught by graduate students.

    My vote is for the lecture/discussion section format. That’s how I learned how to teach. We are robbing CUNY’s graduate students of that opportunity and placing our students in classes with generally passionate but less knowledgeable graduate students.

    Susan M. Chambre

  3. Dahlia Remler says:

    Will, thanks for writing about this very important issue.

    In my opinion, a certain amount of mechanical, get the basics, is essential foundation in many subjects. I am sensitive to this need because I have often taught this more mechanical material poorly, blithely assuming that students can get the mechanics quickly and easily. However, students often need to master the basics.

    But such mechanical learning is just a step along the way to the kind of in-depth analytical thinking and reflection that is the real goal. As Will says, the ultimate goal is applying the material in new contexts.

    I looked briefly at some on-line homework (for both statistics and economics) and rejected it as coming no where close to the kinds of explaining and multi-step applied problem-solving questions that I assign. On further reflection, I realized that on-line homework might be useful as a first step for some students. Provided such highly mechanical and limited assignments are viewed as stepping stones towards real problem-solving and explaining assignments, they’re fine, in my opinion.

    Motivation is also a concern with such mechanical on-line homework. Challenging, real world problems are engaging. On the other hand, without providing the tools first, challenging, real world problems can be overwhelming and frightening. Some students find a clear cut list of “first do this” and “then do that” reassuring.

    Overall, I share Will’s worries but think that there can be an appropriate place for such on-line homework, provided it is just the first step. It can even free up class time to focus on motivation and richer applications.

Comments are closed.