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Janet Mizrahi Newsletter Editor
Much recent research has focused on the importance of actively engaging students instead of delivering information via the more passive "chalk and talk" lecture. Proponents of active learning argue that students grasp more when they feel part of the educational experience and claim that hands-on interaction leads to better development of analytical skills.
A study published in the Journal of Education for Business corroborates the plusses of engaging students with active learning strategies. The research measured the effectiveness of hands-on interaction in undergraduate business-related classes using the "quality school" model. This pedagogical approach advocates teaching concepts that students feel are relevant to their needs, wants, and interests.
The study followed two sections of two different courses, one in managerial communication and the other in macroeconomics. One section of each course was considered the control group, the others the experimental group. The authors sought to illustrate that students receiving reinforced connections to course objectives would be more likely to produce higher quality work and better synthesize information.
To test their theory, the researchers started the experiment the first day of the semester. After instructors introduced the course, they asked students to submit questions pertaining to the subject. These questions were subsequently compiled into a list and given to each student. Typical questions from students in the communication course were "How do I create an effective résumé?" and "How can I be more persuasive?"
For the remainder of the semester, instructors in the control group rarely referred to the list. But in the experimental group, instructors directed attention to the list frequently, prodding the students to assess how their original questions were being addressed during the semester.
At the end of the course, the students had acquired the knowledge to be able to answer the questions they had posed at the beginning of the semester and were asked to do so in a final assignment. The scores from those assignments indicated that the students in the active learning classes showed a higher level of performance than those in the control group.
The study's authors note they were not surprised that students who made connections to reinforce learning objectives produced better work. Nor was it a shock to find that active learning helped students synthesize information, perhaps enhancing their retention of course material.
However, the authors' thoughts as to the reasons for the improvement turn out to be rather prosaic. The researchers posited that the experiment may have worked because students are naturally forgetful, and the simple act of consistently reminding them to recall the course objectives may have jarred their memories.
Either way, it appears that involving students—or at least reminding them of what they are learning—leads to good results all around.
Source: Logan, J. & Plumlee G. (2012, March 1.) Who really answers the questions? Using Glasser's quality school model in an undergraduate classroom. Journal of Education for Business, 87(2), 73-78.