Lecture or active learning for better education?

Craig RobertsCraig Roberts (Visiting Instructor, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences) had a goal for his lectures for his Neurobiology of Learning and Memory course: he would not lecture. He used PowerPoint only as a supplement for active learning. Instead, he assigned readings in both a textbook and original research papers, and students were required to use what they had learned from the reading in class for a variety of activities.  One particularly effective activity was a presidential-style debate in which students argued for the importance of their assigned molecule in a biological process.  Sometimes they played games, like charades, Jeopardy or Who wants to be a millionaire (pictured below) with the course content.  Students designed their own activities to involve the class as part of their final presentation.

neuromillionaireDid the students feel they learned? One frequently-voiced objection to active learning is that students feel that they aren’t being taught if there is no lecture. What did the students think of this course? Dr. Roberts shared his course evaluations with me: overall, students rated his course 4.93 out of 5 for quality, putting him in the top 5% of Duke instructors.  Dr. Roberts is most excited about how the students evaluated the course in achieving the learning objectives. The course evaluation asks students how much the course contributes to a variety of learning objectives, ranging from “gaining factual knowledge” at the lowest cognitive level to acquiring specific skills. Students reported that the course contributed highly or very highly to all of the learning objectives, but they reported that they made the most progress towards “Learning to analyze ideas, arguments and points of view”.

Dr. Roberts credits CIT’s Hugh Crumley with helping to expand his ideas about how students can learn in the classroom.