Practical education gets evidence but struggles to be adopted

American education experts are accumulating a growing array of proven strategies to involve students more in course material, but remain frustrated by academics’ reluctance to adopt them.

More than a dozen of these experts, in a collection of evaluations in Science magazine, describe many styles of “active learning” that work better than traditional classroom teaching.

These approaches include hands-on and advanced virtual reality experiences that are more common at the school level, and a heavy reliance on classroom projects and student-led focus groups at the post-secondary level.

The methods have been shown by research to work in a variety of scientific and technical fields, with particularly large gains among students from low-income backgrounds and racial minorities, the experts said.

“But as far as adoption is concerned,” said one of them, Louis Deslauriers, director of science teaching and learning in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, “it is far behind”.

It’s a reality that Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman, professor of physics and education at Stanford University, has long been fighting. Even getting universities to compile data on their teaching styles has been difficult, said Professor Wieman, who was not part of the Science wrap.

“This is a very big cultural change,” he said of moving away from conference-style formats. “When you look at how long it takes people to make big changes in cultural practices, like in medicine, it’s decades, if not centuries; it is not months and years.

After sharing the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Professor Wieman began to devote himself to finding ways to improve university science education.

He moved to Stanford in 2013 to pursue this goal. There, he said, he can walk down a hallway and quickly see the difference between a half-empty room of disengaged students looking at their phones and computers during a lecture, and a bustling room full of energetically working students. group with a coach teacher. them along.

But even at Stanford, the latter situations are rare, admitted Professor Wieman. His assessments of their worth often involve evaluating the outcomes of the teaching styles he helped establish in his previous positions at Colorado and the University of British Columbia.

At these two institutions and others, Professor Wieman said, before-and-after comparisons have shown improvements in areas that include student retention and grades.

Other authors in the Science includes Elli Theobald and Scott Freeman of the University of Washington in Seattle, whose data shows that active learning methods stimulate all students, but are particularly useful in reducing the disparities faced by people from racial or minority backgrounds. low income.

Looking at the records of 44,000 students in 26 studies, the two Washington professors found that these disparities declined 42% in exam scores and 76% in pass rates, compared to non-minority students.

A study by Dr. Deslauriers and his co-authors attempted to show why such realities do not force changes in universities. He concluded that students underestimate the value they get from active learning methods, as they tend to overestimate charismatic lesson styles and carry this message in lesson evaluations. The teachers have the same memories, they argue, fueling their determination to repeat this approach.

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