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Massive University of Nebraska-Lincoln led study finds lectures still dominate STEM ed

An analysis of more than 2,000 college classes in science, technology, engineering and math has imparted a lesson that might resonate with many students who sat through them: Enough with the lectures, already.

Published March 29 in the journal Science, the largest-ever observational study of undergraduate STEM education monitored nearly 550 faculty as they taught more than 700 courses at 25 institutions across the United States and Canada.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Marilyne Stains and her colleagues found that 55 percent of STEM classroom interactions consisted mostly of conventional lecturing, a style that prior research has identified as among the least effective at teaching and engaging students.

Another 27 percent featured interactive lectures that had students participating in some group activities or answering multiple-choice questions with handheld clickers. Just 18 percent emphasized a student-centered style heavy on group work and discussions.

The predominance of lecturing observed in the study persists despite many years of federal and state educational agencies advocating for more student-centered learning, the researchers said.

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Marilyne Stains, associate professor of chemistry, watches a class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Stains and her colleagues have authored a new study showing that traditional lecturing remains the most common teaching style for undergrad classes in science, technology, engineering and math.

Photo Credit:  Craig Chandler | University Communication

“There is an enormous amount of work that has demonstrated that these (student-centered) strategies improve students’ learning and attitudes toward science,” said Stains, the study’s lead author and associate professor of chemistry at Nebraska. “It’s not just that they understand it better, but they also appreciate science more. They’re not as scared of it, and they engage more easily with it.

“When you see that kind of effect, it makes you say, ‘Why are we still doing it the other way?’”

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Stains authored the study with colleagues from Auburn University; Simon Fraser University; the University of British Columbia; the University of Colorado Boulder; the University of Iowa; Armstrong State University; the University of California, Los Angeles; Otterbein University; the University of California, San Diego; the University of Michigan; the University of Calgary; the University of Virginia; the University of Maine; and Saint Mary’s University (Halifax).

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