zaterdag 27 december 2014

Making college interesting

The article "Colleges Reinvent Classes to Keep More Students in Science" discusses how science education at universities fails its students - specially in the first year. Problem is that the lectures are boring while they could be much more engaging. As a consequence the drop-out rate in the science subjects is much higher than in other subjects. And that can easily be addressed by making it more engaging: The University of Colorado, a national leader in the overhaul of teaching science, tested thousands of students over several years, before and after they each took an introductory physics class, and reported in 2008 that students in transformed classes had improved their scores by about 50 percent more than those in traditional classes. The article describes how such an engaging class looks like: In a nearby hall, an instructor, Catherine Uvarov, peppers students with questions and presses them to explain and expand on their answers. Every few minutes, she has them solve problems in small groups. Running up and down the aisles, she sticks a microphone in front of a startled face, looking for an answer. Students dare not nod off or show up without doing the reading. This deters specially non-traditional students, like women and blacks: In fact, there is no shortage of interested students, but failure rates in the beginning classes are high. At four-year colleges, 28 percent of students set out as math, engineering and science majors, but only 16 percent of bachelor’s degrees are awarded in those fields. The attrition rate is highest among women and blacks. “A lot of science faculty have seen themselves as gatekeepers,” said Marco Molinaro, an assistant vice provost here at Davis and director of its effort to overhaul science courses. [] Rather than try to help students who falter in introductory classes, he said, “they have seen it as their job to weed people out and limit access to upper-level courses.”

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