Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Experimental Learning Methods

The NYT has a profile of a new, and yes, expensive, method of teaching introductory classes (NYT):

In an article in the education journal Change last year, Dr. Wieman noted that the human brain “can hold a maximum of about seven different items in its short-term working memory and can process no more than about four ideas at once.”

“But the number of new items that students are expected to remember and process in the typical hourlong science lecture is vastly greater,” he continued. “So we should not be surprised to find that students are able to take away only a small fraction of what is presented to them in that format.”

[...] The new approach at M.I.T. is known by its acronym, TEAL, for Technology Enhanced Active Learning.

A $10 million donation from the late Alex d’Arbeloff, an M.I.T. alumnus, co-founder of the high-tech company Teradyne, and former M.I.T. corporation chairman, made the switch to TEAL possible. The two state-of-the-art TEAL classrooms alone cost $2.5 million, Professor Belcher said.

Unlike in the lectures, attendance counts toward the final grade, and attendance is up to about 80 percent.

Universities are incubators for entrepreneurship and innovation but professors are often the most resistant to changes in teaching methods, and often to change in general. So it is good to see some professors and administrators taking chances.

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