College kids spend 1/5 of class time on devices

College students spend one-fifth of class time on “digital distractions,” according to a national survey published in the Journal of Media Education. All but 3 percent of those surveyed admitted to texting, emailing, looking at social media, surfing the web and playing games in class.

The average student uses devices in class for “non-class purposes” 11.43 times a day, say University of Nebraska researchers. That’s up from 10.93 in their first survey in 2013.

“About 63 percent of surveyed students said they do so to stay connected, but an equally large share of students said they are attempting to fight boredom,” notes Inside Higher Ed.  “Even though students agreed that checking their devices could harm their academic performance, a majority of students (about 58 percent) described it as only a ‘little’ distraction.”

Ninety percent of students say devices shouldn’t be banned.

No lecture, more learning

“Flipping” the college lecture class — students watch short videos at home and do activities in class — appears to boost learning, writes Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic.

A three-year study at the University of North Carolina found significant gains in student performance in “flipped” settings, writes Meyer.

The study examined three years of a foundational pharmaceutics course, required for all doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) students attending UNC. In 2011, (Vice Dean Russell) Mumper taught the course in a standard, PowerPoint-aided lecture format. In 2012 and 2013, he taught it using “flipped” methods. Student performance on an identical final exam improved by 2.5 percent between 2011 and 2012—results now in press at Academic Medicine—and by an additional 2.6 percent in 2013. Overall, student performance on an identical final exam improved between 2011 and 2013 by 5.1 percent.

Students also came to prefer the flipped model to the lecture model. While 75 percent of students in 2012 said, before Mumper’s class, that they preferred lectures, almost 90 percent of students said they preferred the flipped model after the class.

After the first year, Mumper replaced readings with clinical studies, which students discuss in class. He also cut student presentations, which were unpopular.

At first, students complained, said Natalie Young, a Pharm.D. student. “We just were used to just going to class and not having to do so much preparation for the class.” With the flipped model, “you actually have to do reading or watch the [lecture modules], you actually have to prepare for the class.”

Other professors aren’t as good as Mumper at teaching in a flipped model, Young said.


Don’t count on the ‘cone of learning’


The “cone of learning, aka the “learning pyramid” or the “cone of experience” is popular — and unreliable — writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in Cone of learning or cone of shame?

Many variables affect memory retrieval:

what material is recalled (gazing out the window of a car is an audiovisual experience just like watching an action movie, but your memory for these two audiovisual experiences will not be equivalent)

the age of the subjects

the delay between study and test (obviously, the percent recalled usually drops with delay)

what were subjects instructed to do as they read, demonstrated, taught, etc. (you can boost memory considerably for a reading task by asking subjects to summarize as they read)

how was memory tested (percent recalled is almost always much higher for recognition tests than recall).

what subjects know about the to-be-remembered material (if you already know something about the subject, memory will be much better.

Taking practice tests and spreading out study sessions is effective, researchers conclude. In Why Don’t Students Like School?Willingham advises: “Try to think about material at study in the same way that you anticipate that you will need to think about it later.”

What's with those clickers in physics class?

I am honored to be guest-blogging for Joanne Jacobs while she is away on vacation. I thought I’d warm up with the good old topic of physics instruction.

Last year M.I.T. abandoned its introductory physics lectures and turned to a workshop approach with “personal response clickers.” The teacher would give a short presentation and throw out multiple-choice questions, which the students would answer with their clickers. They would then work on problems during class, as the teacher circulated to help them.

The NYT article heralded this change, mentioning only in passing that some students had petitioned against it. The article quoted only those professors who thought it was a great idea.

But even the project’s pioneer, Professor Eric Mazur, apparently admits that this is largely for unmotivated students.

“The people who wanted to understand,” Professor Mazur said, “had the discipline, the urge, to sit down afterwards and say, ‘Let me figure this out.’ ” But for the majority, he said, a different approach is needed.

If you look at the comments to the article, you find multiple claims that this has resulted in—surprise!—dumbing down of physics.
One M.I.T. student responds:

Don’t be fooled by the professors’ and administration’s rave reviews. The professors love it because they don’t need to prepare a solid 50-minute lecture (and therefore they can devote more time to their research), the administration loves it because they can advertise it in their recruiting letters; the people who get left in the lurch are the students, who would much rather go back to the old way of doing things (this aspect, of course, the article glosses over while gushing forth about this supposedly “new” manner of teaching).

Another M.I.T. student comments:

The atmosphere of the classroom makes it much harder to focus than that of a traditional lecture hall. While lauding the shiny new style of the “round table with computers” system, the article fails to mention that since the professor cannot help but be in only 1 point at any time, 50% of the students are constantly twisted in their seats, trying to operate computers, take notes, and punching clickers while maintaining attention on the instructor.

And another: “My opinion is that this new and expensive teaching method will tend to slow down the more gifted.”

I am currently auditing a physics class (not at M.I.T.). I thought it would be a lecture course, and I relished the thought. As it turns out, this course uses clickers, group work, and all. The professor–who is excellent–gives brief presentations and then throws out problems for students to answer in groups. They then choose one of the four options with their clickers.

Now, I have not taken physics since high school, so I am a bit rusty, certainly not among the more gifted. That said, I like getting absorbed in a lecture, and I like pondering problems on my own. I don’t understand this push to fill classes with group buzz, not to mention multiple-choice problems and clickers. I am enjoying the course–I just wish there were more lecture!

More and more colleges and universities are adopting this workshop/clicker approach and abandoning what they have done before. Yet the more advanced courses, the ones specifically for physics majors, use a lecture approach. Why? Is it that they expect physics majors to work independently and persevere with difficult problems?

Current and former physics students, physics professors, science teachers, and others, what do you think? Do you like this “new” approach to physics instruction? Do you find that it enhances or limits learning? And what do you think of those clickers?

Update (sort of): See Kitchen Table Math for a thoughtful, skeptical take on this matter.

Diana Senechal

Correction: I mistakenly gave the name of the Harvard professor as Kurt Mazur. The name is Eric Mazur.

Psych students do better online

Students who took Psychology 101 online outperformed those who attended lectures at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Professor Diane Reddy has replaced the traditional lecture format with an online version of Psych 101. Students learn at their own pace but also have to obtain mastery, demonstrated by passing a quiz on each unit, before they can move on to the next.

Along the way, students get help from teaching assistants who monitor their online activity, identifying weak spots and providing advice – even if the students don’t seek it.

Over two years, online students tested 12 percent higher and earned more A’s and B’s than those who took the in-person class, even though online students started with lower grades averages. Low-income, minority and low-performing students did especially well with the online course.