Sunday, May 15, 2011

The power of new teaching methods

I just found an article entitled Lectures obsolete, says Nobel winner in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. The article talks about how new, interactive teaching methods were able to teach more physics to a group of students than an experienced, charismatic professor at UBC. This feels like a personal victory to me since back in January 2009 the Citizen ran an editorial ridiculing the types of methods that proved to be so effective in the current article. The Citizen's January 23, 2009 editorial, entitled "Learning Difficulties", concluded "A lecture from a charismatic professor, given to a group of students who want to be there, will always be worth more than clickers in the hands of a colourless professor and disengaged students."

I wrote two letters to the editor on the topic of lectures versus new teaching methods, defending the value of new teaching methods. Portions of the two letters were combined and printed in the Letters page on February 5, 2009, along with my picture. That was a small victory, although the Citizen highlighted my recognition of the fact that lectures work for some students over my defense of new teaching methods.

Now, however, comes today's article showing that good teaching methods, including the much-maligned clickers, actually blow away a charismatic professor. Students learning from the professor scored 18% better than random guessing while students learning from the new methods scored 51 percent higher than random guessing.

I am curious to see whether the UBC results will merit an editorial comment. If it does, I will be sure to respond. :)