Your Students Learn by Doing, Not by Listening

Today one of my students gave a final presentation in the form of a branching hypertext (akin to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels). On the opening screen, the voice of the professor welcomes the students to the course, announces a the major term project, and then immediately dismisses the class. During the Q&A afterwards, I noted that instructor sure didn’t waste much time on lectures, and asked whether the presenter was intending to make a comment on my teaching methods. (The student laughed and said no, she wasn’t intending to comment on my teaching methods. For the record, while I do ask my students to figure a lot out for themselves, I devote at least some of the class time on, you know, instruction.)

David Gooblar reflects on a JAMA study comparing whether focusing on counting calories or eating more vegetables and unprocessed foods led to better results, noting that the study actually documented the value of learning by doing. Subjects in the study didn’t just attend lectures, they participated in activities such as making healthy meals.

Often, I tell my students, the only thing that can change our minds is going through something ourselves, and learning the hard way. In the JAMA study, researchers were successful in changing participants’ eating habits because they went far beyond telling them the principles that underlie healthy eating. The researchers employed the sort of active-learning strategies we all should be putting to use in the college classroom. | We have to go beyond the idea that the perfect presentation of the relevant facts will be enough to help the majority of our students learn. Such pedagogy (whether or not we call it lecturing) will work for some students. But for most students, we need to shift our focus from what it is we say to what it is they do. | Such pedagogy is no easy task. —Chronicle of Higher Education