Before the current semester began, I described my plan to assign small-group projects in Honors 121, an introductory history course. As I explained then, I hoped that this assignment would leverage the power of teaching as a way of learning. I also hoped it would deepen students’ investment in the course and would serve as a very basic introduction to library research. Moreover, I hoped the assignment would help students look beyond the course’s original framing as part of their honors program’s introduction to “the western tradition,” using it as a window into the history of the wider world.
We followed through on this plan. Now that the semester is winding down, it seems appropriate to describe what happened.
Continue reading “Using World History Case Studies in My Mediterranean History Survey, Part II: Method and Results”
Last month, I described my updated plan for teaching an introductory undergraduate “not-a-western-civ course” called Honors 121. In that post, I mentioned my tentative plan to assign case study presentations as part of the semester’s work. “The objective of that assignment, beyond creating a chance for collaborative work,” I wrote, “is to get students themselves to expand our course beyond the usual boundaries of the west—while also helping them conceptualize history as an ongoing conversation among scholars.”
Now I’m further along in the planning process, so I thought I should describe the case study presentation assignment I’m devising.
Continue reading “Using World History Case Studies in My Mediterranean History Survey”
An interesting new study conducted at Harvard University and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that undergraduates in introductory physics courses learn more in classrooms that employ active-learning instruction methods (specifically, problem-solving in small groups) than students taking notes on “passive” lectures—but think they learn less. The researchers propose that this discrepancy between actual and perceived learning happens because active learning requires more effort on students’ part; it feels frustrating or inefficient. They also warns that this means that relying on student evaluations of teaching could lead instructors to use “inferior (passive) pedagogical methods” in their quest to achieve the popularity of “superstar lecturers.”
The study (full version in PDF format here) seems excellent in design and careful in its conclusions. Unfortunately, Harvard has publicized it with a news article that draws a tiresome false dichotomy between lectures and active learning, going so far as to quote the peer-instruction proponent Eric Mazur—who helped with the study—this way:
‘This work unambiguously debunks the illusion of learning from lectures,’ he said. ‘It also explains why instructors and students cling to the belief that listening to lectures constitutes learning.’
Of course, the study does no such thing as Mazur’s first claim.
Continue reading “What’s a Good Small-Group Activity to Illustrate the Concept of a False Dichotomy?”