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Lectures Are Ineffective Too, Study Finds

Update Date: May 14, 2014 08:10 AM EDT

If lectures are droning on, changing it up every 10 minutes with more active teaching techniques will be much help to students, according to a new study. 

Undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating (also called active learning) methods, the study noted. 

"Universities were founded in Western Europe in 1050 and lecturing has been the predominant form of teaching ever since," said biologist Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle, in the press release. Since then the "sage on a stage" approach to teaching has been questioned many times. 

To test the weigh, Freeman along with a group of colleagues analyzed 225 studies of undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teaching methods. In their analysis they 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. 

"The change in the failure rates is whopping," Freeman said. "And the exam improvement-about 6%-could, for example, "bump [a student's] grades from a B- to a B."

"This is a really important article-the impression I get is that it's almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data," added Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University who has campaigned against stale lecturing techniques for 27 years and was not involved in the work. "It's good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis-an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient." 

The meta analysis is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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