Why it’s time North American colleges change how they teach STEM
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Why it’s time North American colleges change how they teach STEM

Why it’s time North American colleges change how they teach STEM

New analysis of over 2,000 STEM classes in colleges across the United States and Canada has shown professors rely on conventional lecturing rather than more hands-on approaches in their classes, despite the benefits of varied learning techniques.

The study notes, however, that this style has been proven to be the least effective method of teaching STEM degrees and engaging students.

The study was the largest observational study of undergraduate STEM education ever undertaken, with 550 faculty observed as they taught collectively over 700 courses at 25 institutions North America.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Professor Marilyne Stains and her colleagues reported 55 percent of classroom interactions within the STEM lessons were of standard lectures where students listened to a professor talk.

The remaining 45 percent of classes were taken up with interactive lectures (27 percent) and student-centered workshops and discussions (18 percent).

Interactive lectures included group activities and answering multiple-choice questions with handheld clickers to engage students.

“There is an enormous amount of work that has demonstrated that these [student-centered] strategies improve students’ learning and attitudes toward science,” Stains told Faculty Focus.

“It’s not just that they understand it better, but they also appreciate science more. They’re not as scared of it, and they engage more easily with it.

“When you see that kind of effect, it makes you say, ‘Why are we still doing it the other way?’”

Why is this happening?

The study highlighted that faculty may not have access to the training required to understand and implement the need for more hands-on learning.

Open classroom layouts and smaller class sizes, as well as other strategies, promote more varied, hands-on learning opportunities.

“When you talk to faculty, you often hear, ‘I teach in an amphitheater. I could never do group work; it’s just not practical. But if I had a small class, I could do it,’” Stains claimed.

The smaller the class size, the more likely it was the work would be student-centered, however, this means in large classes, students’ voices simply get lost in a sea of other mute listeners.

The open layouts also created more experiential learning opportunities, however, around half of courses, which had the advantage of small classes and open layouts, still relied heavily on conventional lectures as opposed to more interactive teaching.

“Just because you have the right layout doesn’t mean you’re actually going to [promote] active learning. You need to be trained in those kinds of practices,” said Stains.

“If there’s not a budget for professional development to help faculty use those environments, they’re going to default to what they know best, which is lecturing.”

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