Monday, June 06, 2011

To Lecture or Not to Lecture?

My boss Fred Miller recently directed my attention to an article in the journal Science (from 13 May 2011) about the relative effectiveness of two teaching methods. The study pitted senior physics instructors who had received high marks as lecturers against less-experienced post-docs using a method known as "deliberate practice." Deliberate practice involves giving students pretests to assess prior student knowledge, making them work on challenging questions during class meetings, and giving them frequent feedback on the questions they have been working on. In the study, the senior instructors were rated highly in terms of the quality of their lectures, but more learning happened in the classes using deliberate practice.

This study received coverage in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which ends with the following words of caution:
Mr. Deslauriers [one of the authors of the study--JSM] cautioned that instructors who wanted to change methods to improve learning in their classrooms would have to spend a fair amount of studying the practices for them to be effectively executed.
This quotation bears keeping in mind. Deliberate practice sounds like a great method, and I plan to use more of it in my teaching next year, but I do thing it will require a fair amount of effort to actually implement effectively. I wonder if there are any books or articles on education methods that provide useful advice on its implementation. Based on my previous dipping into the education literature, practical advice on implementation is much harder to find than the reams of verbiage on abstract theories of learning and teaching.
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