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Activity Based Learning

Lectures are literally medieval. The format is also inherently unfair:
[A] growing body of evidence suggests that the lecture is not generic or neutral, but a specific cultural form that favors some people while discriminating against others, including women, minorities and low-income and first-generation college students. This is not a matter of instructor bias; it is the lecture format itself — when used on its own without other instructional supports — that offers unfair advantages to an already privileged population.
We can do better. #ABLConnect at Harvard helps educators develop activity-based methods of teaching more effectively. It's not a fad. It's research-based, it's effective, and it's fun. It's also one of the many reasons I left Caltech to join the faculty at Harvard. It is truly refreshing to be at an institution that is serious about teaching innovation. Not just in words, but in resources and actions. Our students and our science depend on it. 

Check out this promotional video featuring yours truly:


Lecto Verbum said…
Hey John,

I don't think its the communication format (lecture v. active learning) that causes the bias directly. It seems to me that would imply all sorts of inherent differences (attention span, distribution of learning styles, etc.) between women, people of color, etc. and white men that I find hard to believe.

To me, there is a separate process occurring when classes are taught with active learning, and that's a refocusing of the classroom onto all the students. Active learning unlike lecturing is filled with feedback and teacher-student interaction. It becomes much harder for students to not participate when the teacher makes the effort to force/reward participation, and that happens in active learning classrooms in a way that does not in traditional lectures. Traditional lectures rely mostly on individual student initiative and teacher reciprocation for participation, and its easy to see how biases regarding classroom comfort, prejudice, etc. to be introduced. Thus, the classroom becomes focused on a few students, who often get labels like "star" or "standout." So to me, the disappointing results seen in lecture-based classrooms is instructor bias as well as self-selection bias (I disagree with the NYT quote). The good news is that active learning can re-focus the classroom and dismantle some of that bias by re-focusing the classroom on all the students.

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