Don’t lecture me

by Harry on January 6, 2012

Another great radio piece by Emily Hanford (I caught the end of what I assume was just part of it on the NPR afternoon news show on Sunday) here (audio and transcript both there). She reports the research on the effectiveness of lectures in prompting actual learning: not much. Anyone reading who lectures must listen to/read it. A long excerpt (followed by some comments):

Lecturing was the way just about everyone taught introductory physics. To think there was something wrong with the lecture meant physics instructors would “have to really change the way they do things,” says Hestenes. A lot of them ignored his study and kept teaching the way they always had. They insisted their lectures were working just fine. But Eric Mazur was unusual, says Hestenes. “He was the first one who took it to heart.” Mazur is a physics professor at Harvard University. He came across Hestenes’s articles in 1990, five years after they’d been published. To understand why the articles had such a big impact on Mazur you have to know some things about his history. Mazur grew up dreaming of becoming an astronomer.

“When I was five years old I fell in love with the universe,” he says. “I tried to get my hands on to every accessible book on astronomy. I was so excited by the world of science.” But when Mazur got to university, he hated the astronomy classes.”It was all sitting in the lecture, and then scribbling down notes and cramming those notes and parroting them back on the exam,” he says. “Focusing on the details, focusing on memorizing and regurgitation, the whole beauty of astronomy was lost.” So he switched to physics. It wasn’t as heartbreaking for him to sit in a physics lecture and memorize things. Mazur eventually got a Ph.D. in physics and a job at Harvard University. Like most Ph.D.s, Mazur never got any training in how to teach.

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Land of (unequal) opportunity

by John Quiggin on January 6, 2012

A little late to the game, the NY Times has quite a good piece by Jason DeParle on the well-established finding that the US is not only the most unequal of developed societies but is also at the bottom of the scale for social mobility.

I’ve been arguing since the Triassic era of blogging that this isn’t a coincidence – a society with highly unequal outcomes can’t sustain equality of opportunity, but until this year (in fact, until the emergence of the Occupy movement) I didn’t see any evidence that the facts were sinking in, even among the majority liberals. Now it’s as if a dam has broken. Some thoughts, cautionary and otherwise over the fold.

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