Thursday, February 5, 2015

Why Students Resist Active Learning

By now, regular readers of this column know that I am an ardent supporter of active learning strategies. Pedagogical practices that are driven by what the students do in class, rather than by what the instructor does, are at the heart of my thinking as a teacher. Whether it's team-based learning, in-class writing assignments, or frequent testing (yes, testing is an active learning strategy!), I'm always on the lookout for approaches that draw students into taking a more involved role in the classroom.

And if last year's HERI Faculty Survey is anything to go by, more and more instructors are moving away from strict adherence to the lecture model and toward a pedagogy that is much more student-centered. Over the past 25 years, the number of teachers using such approaches as class discussions, small-group collaborative learning, group projects, and peer review in most or all of their courses has trended consistently upward. Correspondingly, the number of teachers who reported using "extensive lecturing" in most or all of their courses has gone slowly but steadily down.

Still, if you mention to your colleagues that you are thinking of integrating more of these strategies into your classroom, you'll probably hear dire warnings of student resistance, particularly in the form of poor student evaluations. It makes sense: One way of defining active learning is any teaching practice that compels students to participate. Whether it's asking a question and then calling on a student for a response, or dividing students into small groups and asking them to work on problems together, active learning forces students to break from the passive role of merely listening to a lecture and taking notes.

You may indeed encounter many students who are still used to doing schoolwork at home and using class time to sit and listen and absorb whatever the professor wants to communicate. Those students may not easily adjust to a course that asks them to work in class, too. For adjuncts and non-tenure-track instructors in particular, the fear of bad evaluations may be enough to make adopting such practices seem a risk not worth taking.

So how can we integrate these strategies into our classrooms with a minimum of student resistance? Here are a few tips to help ease the way.

Read the article Why Students Resist Active Learning

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