Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The bias of college lectures?

This is so not on fleek. And I can scarcely believe this article was written by a woman. I don't know what disappoints me more: that the article suggesting college lectures are biased towards white men was written by a woman, that she did not see more than the obvious, and that this was actually published by The New York Times. I can only hope the latter was because they had few options.

Annie Murphy Paul, author of the precociously named The Brilliant Blog, asserts that lectures are biased towards white, affluent men. Sigh. She suggests that something called "active learning" seems to be of more benefit for "women, minorities, and low-income and first-generation students." She goes on to posit that white, affluent men do better in lecture courses because they have more background knowledge. Hmm.

Or it could be because they have been so conditioned not to think for themselves but to absorb what others think that they are overwhelmed by the expectations of active learning which requires them to be active in their learning.

Active learning, which has been around since the 1990s, is defined as "a process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content." What we have called cooperative learning, collaborative learning, problem-based learning, and inquiry-based learning are all examples of this mysterious active learning.

Paul refers to quizzes as a form of assessment in active learning classes, but clearly misses the point that assessment in an active learning class is happening all the time--faculty and students themselves are assessing where they are in their progress towards the learning objectives, which are more than simply being able to regurgitate on a test whatever the professor pontificated.

Paul closes her opinion piece this way: "Given that active-learning approaches benefit all students, but especially those who are female, minority, low-income and first-generation, shouldn't all universities be teaching this way?"

Well, here's the thing. Yes, all educators at all levels should be using active learning strategies when and where it makes sense so students can make progress towards the learning objectives, which should be more than just passing a test, I might add.

I'm struck, however, that these populations seem to do better with active learning than lectures because what this says to me is that female, minority, low-income and first-generation students are better critical thinkers and problem solvers than white, affluent men. They are more creative thinkers and work better collaboratively. And they are probably bored to tears in the typical lecture class if the class is exclusively lecture.

I'm not one to disparage the lecture completely because there are times an educator needs to provide some context and some information so there can be a time and situation for a lecture.

But if we want students to learn, really learn, they need to be engaged in their learning. Regardless of their socio-economic status, race, gender, or anything else.

Having said that, if what Ms. Paul suggests is true, then as an employer, I wouldn't hire a single white, affluent male because they're not the creative, collaborative, critical-thinking, problem-solving people; they're the sheep. Curiouser and curiouser.

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