Does the traditional lecture discriminate?

Annie Murphy Paul asks if college lectures discriminate in her New York Times op-ed, “Are College Lectures Unfair?” Paul claims evidence supports the idea that the lecture is not neutral, but rather favors a population that’s predominately white, male, and rich. The piece compares the lecture style against active learning, claiming, “Research comparing the two methods has consistently found that students over all perform better in active-learning courses than in traditional lecture courses. However, women, minorities, and low-income and first-generation students benefit more, on average, than white males from more affluent, educated families” (Murphy Paul).

Possible reasons include the fact that low-income and minority students are more likely to have gone to low-performing high schools that did not offer the same kinds of extracurricular activities and classes that wealthier white students may have received, thereby barring them from the background knowledge that benefits students in a lecture-style course.

Active-learning courses encourage students to engage with the material outside of class and more frequently, leading students to study and complete their work more often than in many lectures. In a study conducted by Sarah L. Eddy of the University of Washington, “the active-learning approach worked disproportionately well for black students — halving the black-white achievement gap evident in the lecture course — and for first-generation college students, closing the gap between them and students from families with a history of college attendance” (Murphy Paul). Active learning may encourage students from all backgrounds to voice their thoughts in a more open environment. Consistent quizzing may also help students engage with their studies further.

What are your thoughts?

Read more from The New York Times op-ed here.

Murphy Paul, Annie. “Are College Lectures Unfair?” Sunday Review. The New York Times Opinion, 12 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

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