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Colleges Looking Beyond the Lecture

By Washington Post

February 17, 2012

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Science, technology, engineering, and math departments at many universities are redesigning the lecture as a style of teaching out of concern that it is driving students away.

Initiatives at American, Catholic, and George Washington universities and across the University System of Maryland are dividing 200-student lectures into 50-student studios and 20-student seminars.

Faculty also are learning to make courses more active by asking more questions, starting ask-your-neighbor discussions, and conducting instant surveys. "We need to think about what happens when students have a bad experience with the course work," says University of Maryland of Baltimore County president Freeman Hrabowski.

The lecture backlash signals an evolving vision of college as a participatory exercise as research studies have shown that students in traditional lecture courses learn comparatively little. The anti-lecture movement is fueled by the proliferation of online lectures, which threaten the monopoly on learning by self-sufficient campuses.

Other scholars are looking to improve, rather than replace, the lecture model. For example, Johns Hopkins chemistry professor Jane Greco records her lectures and posts them online as homework, and uses her time in the lecture hall as an interactive discussion of the lab experiment students completed the previous session.

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