Wake up, traditional lectures are dozing off

Getting the most out of my lectures  — some of the time, just staying awake — has been the most impassable obstacle I’ve encountered at Queen’s so far.

When the first universities were founded in Western Europe in 1050, they utilized lecturing as the predominant teaching method.

In 2017, we’re still using it. 

The difference is that class sizes have ballooned and we’re now living in a tech bubble that could provide us with infinite learning resources. Not much has changed in terms of how we teach, even though the world is vastly different than it was a thousand years ago.

I struggle with paying attention in lectures. 

In first year, there were tutorials for every single class I was in. But as I continued my undergraduate career, I noticed a steadily decreasing emphasis on class participation and group work. I now have one class where the professor just shows us slides that are full to the brim with writing and reads them aloud to us. The entire time I’m sitting there, I can’t help thinking there has to be a better way.

A study conducted in 2014 by the National Academy of Science revealed a significant increase in test scores in science, math and engineering classes when more active learning methods were incorporated into the curriculum. Techniques such as active participation iClicker questions, frequent tutorials and working on problems in class dramatically cut failure rates and boosted exam scores by 6 per cent on average. That could mean the difference between a B- and a B+.

Eric Mazur, a Harvard physicist and longtime advocate for educational reform, commented in a Science article presenting the data, “it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data.” I agree that turning a blind eye to such important information does a huge disservice to students.  

The key seems to be switching a student’s role from passive listener to active learner. 

Changing the structure of the university classroom is no easy task. It would likely require increased TA hiring, more work for professors and I wouldn’t be surprised if people dug their heels in on this one.

But the fact remains: lectures aren’t just boring, they’re scientifically ineffective when compared to more engaging teaching models. 

If we pride ourselves on being a top-notch academic institution, why do we design our current learning models the same way we did in 1050?

Alex Palermo is The Journal’s Assistant Arts Editor. She’s a third-year biochemistry student.

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