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Tools Matter More Than Teachers

Will lectures be replaced?

Think of a college physics class, and you’re probably conjuring images of a lecture hall filled with restless students and one very accomplished professor lecturing at the front of the room. Whether you were passing notes in the back of the class or paying rapt attention to his wisdom, lectures probably featured prominently in your college education.

A new study has some bad news for veteran professors: your lectures suck.

At least, they do if the goal is teaching. A traditional lecture can’t compete with a hands-on approach involving in-class quizzes, small discussions and electronic media. The study found that college students learned more from inexperienced graduate assistants using the hands-on method than they did from long-tenured professors.

The Canadian study showed that students learned almost twice as much when they were engaged during the class. As the AP reports:

The interactive method had almost no lecturing. It involved short, small-group discussions, in-class “clicker” quizzes, demonstrations and question-answer sessions. The teachers got real-time graphic feedback on what the students were learning and what they weren’t getting.

The results of this method were startling: after just a week of replacing traditional lecturing with the gadget-heavy interactive method, students scored dramatically higher on quizzes. Though it was a small study, the Nobel-prize winning author says his research will stand up under scrutiny when applied to a wider range of classes.

What does this mean for the future of education? As the study authors say, their research shows there’s nothing magic about a particular person. It’s the tools you use to teach that matter, not the individual teacher. Anyone who has gone to college must intuitively disagree. Surely we all have memories of that magic professor who opened up new worlds to us? Will those individuals disappear by the time our kids get to college, replaced by a system of pop quizzes and interactive games?

For the most part, a move towards more interactive education seems like it could only help the young kids who are the college students of the future. I’d rather imagine my daughters learning more, and more easily, with interactive tools. It’s a happier thought than picturing them spending four years snoozing at the back of lecture halls.

I worry, though, about the idea that the tools matter more than teachers. In my experience, a great teacher at any level is an inspiration. There is a special magic to certain individuals that goes far beyond what they lecture on in the classroom. I hope that magic won’t be lost as lectures give way to modern teaching methods.

Photo: smemon87

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