Debunking an Active-Learning Myth

Decorative: "Myth debunked!"


A. "Will My Student Evaluations Decrease If I Adopt an Active Learning Instructional Strategy?" (article) "present[s] data from a survey of 431 physics instructors who had attended the Physics and Astronomy New Faculty Workshop and who attempted to incorporate active learning into their introductory course."

  • "Nearly half of respondents (48%) felt that their student evaluations increased, one-third (32%) felt that their student evaluations had not been impacted, and one-fifth (20%) felt that their student evaluations decreased."
  • "Thus, contrary to common fears, for these instructors the most likely result from the incorporation of active learning was an increase in student evaluations."

B. Key Findings

1. "There was no difference between male and female instructors or between native vs. non-native English speakers."

2. "[S]tudent reactions appeared to be related to the amount of class time spent in lectures."

  • "Increases in student evaluations were the most common outcome reported by instructors when time spent in lectures in the active learning class was between 20 and 60 percent of the total class time."
  • "As the time spent lecturing increased above 60%, there were more reports of no changes in student evaluations."
  • "Conversely, as the time spent lecturing dropped below 20%, there was a greater likelihood of decreasing evaluations."

3. "Instructors report that many students prefer active learning classes over traditional classes ... [and] also provided reasons for why they think some students do not like active learning classes."

  • "[S]tudents feel that they learn more in an active learning class, enjoy the classroom environment, like to interact with other students, and enjoy the use of technology."
  • "[S]ome students do not feel that they are being taught, do not want to work during class time, do not know what to expect, and do not like to interact during class."

4. "[I]t is important to clearly explain to students why active learning is being used and what will be expected of the students."

  • "Frequent feedback can also be used to help students see that they are learning more."
  • "[T]here is no clear correlation between student evaluations and student learning."

  • "[M]any research studies suggest that a low lecture, high engagement environment is associated with the highest learning gains.

5. "[I]t is important not to use our data to conclude that one should lecture at least 20% of the time."

  • "[S]ome instructors who reported lecturing less than 20% also in reported increased student evaluations," e.g. using "Peer Instruction (moderate lecture) [or] Workshop Physics (low lecture)."

6. "[I]t is possible to use high levels of student engagement (associated with higher learning) and maintain high student satisfaction."

  • "Context is likely to influence student satisfaction."
  • "For example, ...  when implementing a very low lecture approach in an environment that is built into the structure of the department and supported across the department, student satisfaction is more likely to be positive than when done by a single individual in an otherwise high lecture department."
  • "[F]or the majority of faculty, starting with moderate changes, the most likely result is that student satisfaction will increase. Instructors utilizing a very high engagement approach (less than 20% lecture) should take extra care to be attentive to issues of student satisfaction."
  • The "overall recommendation is that instructors should not use fear of negative student reactions as a reason to avoid implementing active learning strategies."

Henderson, Charles, Raquib Khan, and Melissa Dancy. "Will My Student Evaluations Decrease If I Adopt an Active Leanring Instructional Strategy?" American Journal of Physics 86, 94 (2018), doi: 10.1119/1.5065907.

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