Nobelist's Study Finds Interactive Lectures Improve Student Learning
A new study by Carl Wieman, a 2001 Nobel physics prize winner, has found interactive lectures that engage students greatly improve student learning. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist has gathered evidence to support that the teaching style of a class is more important than who the instructor is. That is, a teaching assistant or graduate student using interactive teaching methods can deliver a more effective lecture on a topic than a tenured professor who uses traditional methods and is an expert in the field.
Comparing interactive and “traditional” lectures
The results of student learning in two different classes were measured by comparing test scores.
One class had little lecturing: instead, students participated in small group discussions, demonstrations, and question-answer sessions. Instructors were able to view real-time graphic feedback on student learning and on comprehension problems.
Additionally, students in this class responded to in-class quizzes using clickers. Clickers have been shown to actively engage students, to help instructors gauge levels of student understanding, and to provide feedback to student questions.
The control group was a “normal” lecture taught using traditional methods.
Wieman attributed the differences in the students' performance to the style of teaching as it relates to learning processes.
"It's really what's going on in the students' minds rather than who is instructing them," said lead researcher Carl Wieman of the University of British Columbia, who shared a Nobel physics prize in 2001. "This is clearly more effective learning. Everybody should be doing this. ... You're practicing bad teaching if you are not doing this."
Students in the “interactive” class scored significantly higher than their counterparts from the traditional lecture on a quiz about what they had been taught that week. Attendance and attention rates were also higher for the "interactive" class.
Although previous research supports these findings, this study is particularly notable because it was written by a Nobel laureate.
Student engagement strategies for large lectures
Wieman also declared "Lectures have been equally ineffective for centuries. Now we have figured out ways to do it better."
In traditional passive lectures, students are less attentive, more likely to skip class, and less engaged. Introducing interactive teaching methods, however, can help fight these tendencies.
Rather than simply lecturing at students, encouraging interaction allows instructors to more effectively monitor student learning and teach with a rapid feedback cycle. Classes taught in this manner also promote discourse among students, which increases opportunity for peer instruction. Students become more engaged, more attentive, and more likely to attend lecture.
While interactive classroom technology is not by itself a solution to problems of disengagement and inattentiveness, use of social media, clickers, or applications like LectureTools can help support effective teaching techniques for improving student engagement.
Student response systems can test students on concepts during lecture. Instructors can use the results of these “quizzes” to gauge student comprehension and adjust lecture accordingly, if necessary. These tools have an increased variety of uses if instructors are able to ask students for written free responses or test spatial concepts through image maps.
Technology can also be used to facilitate discussions and to encourage question-asking via social media or student inquiry.
The implications of Wieman's study will likely further implementation of such interactive classroom technologies at many institutions seeking to deliberately engage students and improve student learning.