The traditional college lecture has been around for about 800 years. The teaching style came about because a select few elites would have information, and information was hard to get. At the time, one person standing up and talking for an hour made sense. However, society has evolved immensely from 800 years ago.
With inventions such as the Internet, information has never been more accessible. You can find out anything in a matter of seconds with a few keystrokes. You can do it from the luxury of your home, on the bus or anywhere you please. We have transcended the barriers of information being locked in long books in a library. With this new informational society it begs the question, do we still need the traditional lecture?
This is the kind of question that more and more professors are asking. If the answer to that question is yes, then how do we completely revolutionize our education? Bryan Dewsbury, an assistant professor in the Biology Department at the University of Rhode Island, is trying to find the answer.
“People like myself have to rethink what is really the best use of the 50 minutes of class,” he said. “If I’m going to come to class and rephrase something, even if I do it well, there are already people out there that and you can access it on your own time. But what online videos don’t have that I can provide, is ways in which to solve a problem and actually understand why it is important, and different ways to think about it.”
Dewsbury is using a new technique in the classroom called hybrid learning. The way it works is the students watch videos and read the textbook and then take the information they learned and apply it to solve problems. This learning technique is controversial in some circles as there are many different ways to implement hybrid learning and many factors to consider.
“Hybrid learning for me is using multiple modalities to enhance the learning abilities of the students,” Dewsbury said. “The degree of the modalities depends on the population of the class. I am not married to any amount or degree, but rather just trying to figure out the best of the needs of the class.”
Is allowing students to use the resources already available to them to solve problems the better way to teach? The evidence is seemingly clear. Dewsbury’s BIO 101 class had between 18 and 19 percent unproductive grades, while the last fall semester dropped to 11 percent and the last spring semester dropped to just four percent.
Paul Bueno de Mesquita, a URI psychologist and professor, agreed that hybrid learning is a better approach. “In general, I favor, and I think the research shows this, for not learning for memory sake, but for understanding and meaning,” he said. “This is the way our minds really work. You begin to understand when meaning is attached to it.”
Bueno de Mesquita said that there are three factors to consider for learning.
“One is genuine active learning in an engaging and meaningful way,” he said. “Active engagement with meaning is what builds strong knowledge structures. The second factor is instructional methods that are problem based learning. Learning situated in circumstances by far does better than abstract unsituated learning. The third factor is you have to keep in mind the developmental level of the learner.”
Breaking out of traditional ways is not easy. We grow comfortable and safe with something that has been working for a long time and education is no different. The growing push to reform education and the resistance for traditional education will always be there.
It is important to note that there is no right and wrong answer. Going to the extreme on both ends is not the solution. What it really comes down to is an understanding of how to blend what has worked and what will work. It comes down to the way you implement these techniques.
Dewsbury focuses his view on a more facilitative model, “where everyone walks into the classroom from a different place on the preparation spectrum and it is literally my job to get you to a place in three months to where you can functionally perform in this discipline to go into upper level classes.”
“Everyone getting A’s in my class wouldn’t necessarily make me happy, but everyone getting A’s and doing well in upper level classes would, because they can get an A in BIO 101 and a F in BIO 102 and then I haven’t really done my job,” he said.
While there will never be a perfect way, this should not stop us from trying to find new and better ways to teach the new generation. Regardless of what method is being used there are still underlying themes that should always be present.
In order to promote learning in the best way possible, Bueno de Mesquita said that it needs to be fun because if it is hard and torturous, students will not learn anything.
“You can have trauma, but trauma doesn’t promote,” he said. “You may remember it, it may have a shocking impact on you, but you’re not really learning anything from it. Learning has to be enjoyable.”