Are College Lectures Unfair? asks Annie Murphy Paul in the New York Times. I think would be more useful to ask whether college lectures are less effective than they could be — for everyone.
“Active learning” — such as adding quizzes, questions about the reading and in-class exercises to lectures — improves achievement for all students, research has found. “Women, minorities, and low-income and first-generation students benefit more, on average, than white males from more affluent, educated families,” writes Paul.
An introductory biology course at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was taught in a low-structure lecture format and a moderate-structure format that included “ungraded guided-reading questions and in-class active-learning exercises in addition to the graded online assignments,” she writes.
In the structured course, students were more likely to complete the readings and spent more time studying. Students earned higher grades than those in the traditional lecture course. The active-learning approach worked especially well for black and first-generation students.
At the University of Texas at Austin, psychology professors added a low-stakes quiz at the start of each class. Quizzed students attended class more often and achieved higher test scores. “The intervention also reduced by 50 percent the achievement gap between more affluent and less affluent students,” writes Paul.
“Active-learning courses regularly provide opportunities for students to talk and debate with one another in a collaborative, low-pressure environment,” writes Paul. That especially helps students who may be reluctant to speak up, such as women in math and science courses, minority students and first-generation students.
These days, many students who show up at a lecture are checking social media and surfing. Others will watch the lecture online. Unless they never get around to it. Redesigning lecture courses is a survival thing for professors, not just a way to help less-advantaged students.