By: Bridgit Burke, Associate Clinical Professor and Director, Civil Rights & Disabilities Law Clinic, Albany Law School
As those in clinical education already knew, the blackboard/lecture method of teaching is not the most effective teaching style. A recent study once again confirms that working in a group to solve problems is far more effective for students than a traditional lecture.
In a study of 850 undergraduate physics students done at the University of British Columbia, groups of students were divided into lecture sections and experimental sections. The experimental learning format consisted of group work, problem solving, and discussion while the actual memorization was self taught as homework. At the end of the week, the students were given a voluntary test. According to a report in the Economist, “The traditionally taught group’s average score was 41%, compared with 74% for the experimental group–even though the experimental group did not manage to cover all the material it was supposed to, whereas the traditional group did.” The New York Times reports that the individuals in the non-traditional group were taught by teaching assistants and the traditional group was taught by the usual lectures.
While we may not find the results surprising, both the New York Times and the Economist are quick to point out that the study may not be perfect. The disparity is “biggest performance boost ever documented in educational research.” One criticism is that the students in the non-traditional group may simply have responded to the novel approach. I for one would like to see the day when problem solving teaching is the norm so that we could test this criticism.
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