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Education Science

MIT Moves Away From Massive Lecture Halls 317

Posted by timothy
from the at-that-tuition-it-should-be-massage-tutoring dept.
eldavojohn writes "The New York Times is reporting on MIT's migration away from large lectures as many colleges and universities have. Attendance at these lectures often falls to 50 percent by the end of the semester. TEAL (Technology Enhanced Active Learning) gives the students a more hands on approach and may signal the death of the massive lecture hall synonymous with achieving a bachelors of science."
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MIT Moves Away From Massive Lecture Halls

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  • remote learning (Score:5, Insightful)

    by escay (923320) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:51PM (#26436135) Journal

    Is this going towards a future where students do not need to be physical present on the campus? they would attend classes from home (or basement for some) and graduate with professional degrees. while that may be well and good for knowledge and proficiency what does it do to learning about social coexistence?

    oh well, i guess they could take a class for that too.

    • Re:remote learning (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:56PM (#26436235)

      Social Co-existance? Why in God's name would you need to learn that at college? Those are life skills, and can be learned in *drumroll* life. Sure, college is a great place to do that, but I would not say the social attributes gained in college translate 100% to working life, more like 50% or less. There is a lot of stuff kids do in college that would get you fired in a heartbeat at a real honest to goodness job.

      Social co-existance is not a good reason to go to college, IMHO. Apparently they teach that at some schools anyway (which is completely retarded).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nine-times (778537)

        I think I agree with you. I get the feeling sometimes that, in many ways, people have come to think of college as an advanced summer camp where their darling little snowflakes can learn how to behave themselves out on their own, "in real life". Of course, their concept of the best way to do that is to seclude them in a community where practically no one has real-life experience outside of academia.

        That's not to say that you can't learn about social interaction in college, and I think there is value in ha

        • Re:remote learning (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:22PM (#26436655)

          Lecture halls have nothing to do with being on-campus.

          They fell out of the middle-ages mentality where the large lecture was the best way of disseminating knowledge to a group of individuals, specifically because multiple copies of a book were not often available. The "Lecture" format was originally much like the sermon you get from a preacher at sunday services.

          Of course, for most of my "lecture" classes, if there were more than 30 students, all the "lecturer" did was read his own damn book (which we had to buy at way-too-high prices) to us for 3 hours every class anyways. I wholeheartedly support the end of the "lecture" format class on this basis.

    • by decipher_saint (72686) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:00PM (#26436295) Homepage

      I can just see the late night commercial for MIT...

      You could learn:
      Architecture
      Engineering
      VCR Repair
      Computer Science
      Sciences
      Management

      All from the comfort of your own home!

      If you place your order now, we'll send you a tote bag at absolutely no additional charge!

      Operators are standing by...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Beezlebub33 (1220368)

        But you can do that already. MIT has been going through the process of putting their courses online (see OpenCourseWare).

        So, at this point, what does it mean that you went to MIT? That they graded your papers? That their professor read you the course notes? No, anybody could do that.

        The only advantages to going to a school like MIT versus a generic school are 1) getting the name on your diploma and 2) experiencing the supposedly mind expanding ambiance there. IMHO the best thing about MIT is #1 above,

    • Well they would have to take that class, because when they go for the job the personality test would flag them.
    • while that may be well and good for knowledge and proficiency what does it do to learning about social coexistence?

      Aren't you presupposing that MIT students currently learn about social coexistence?

      oh well, i guess they could take a class for that too.

      Potsdam University is already on it [slashdot.org].

    • Re:remote learning (Score:4, Interesting)

      by oldwindways (934421) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @03:02PM (#26437383) Homepage Journal

      Is this going towards a future where students do not need to be physical present on the campus?

      Actually, the TEAL approach that replaced the large freshman physics lectures at MIT places a heavier emphasis on attendance. In a traditional lecture the professor doesn't know most of the students, and doesn't really care if 50% of them stop showing up after the first week. With TEAL there are interactive portions of the class (such as answering multiple choice questions with a personal remote) which are tracked and factored into the student's grade. In other words, if you don't show up, you can't get an A (no matter how well you have mastered the material).

      Personally I don't think this is the best approach, but it certainly isn't forgiving of a student's absence from class.

      As a side note, when I was a freshman, many of my classmates did not find the TEAL lectures to be terribly effective in teaching the material. Frequently they would go back into the video archive after class and watch recordings of the "traditional" lectures from years past to actually learn what was being taught. They just went to the TEAL lectures because they didn't want to loose their participation credit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        As a side note, when I was a freshman, many of my classmates did not find the TEAL lectures to be terribly effective in teaching the material.

        This seems to be the big paradox of TEAL. From what I've heard among the faculty, it seems to be quite unpopular among students, but by every metric of student progress available, they actually learn substantially more than in traditional lecture classes. My own experience as an undergrad at Caltech suggests that many of the lecture classes were delivered in a way t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tristanreid (182859)

      RTFA!
      Why would you extrapolate to a future "where students do not need to be physical (sic) present on the campus"?

      The point is that they're moving away from large impersonal lectures to more interactive group sessions. The result has been a higher percentage of attendance. That's kind of the opposite of what you said, isn't it?

      Why are you modded Insightful?

      -t.

  • great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by po134 (1324751) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:51PM (#26436149)
    I've been in 2x150+ classes at my university and it's really a good idea to move from those as the best the teacher can do is read the slides (God they love those at the university) which every student can do on their own at home, there's no "plus-value" of going to class especially when you have 45min of bus each way to get there.
    • Re:great (Score:5, Informative)

      by Firethorn (177587) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:56PM (#26436225) Homepage Journal

      I have to agree. What's the use of having a class so huge that the professor can't even know all his students, doesn't grade papers(his TAs do that), the student can't necessarily see the screen well or hear the professor.

      Questions can't realistically be asked, etc...?

      I learned more from reading the book, the slides mostly restated the book. And one of the classes the professor forbid tape recorders* and didn't hand out slides. I have poor vision. It sucked.

      *Couldn't exactly hide the mic, I'd have needed a boom.

      • Re:great (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <`moc.liamg' `ta' `yppupcinataS'> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:23PM (#26436685) Journal

        I always loved the question part(sarcasm/irony). A lot of my lecture profs would ask this question like, "Everyone who doesn't get it, raise their hand" and if enough people raised their hand, he'd go over the topic again, and if that didn't do it, you had to ask the TA anyway.

        My brains a bit odd: when I don't get it, I don't get it differently from most people, so I always had to ask the TA, or figure it out for myself. At that point, there ceases to be a reason to go to the class. Add to that the psychological torment of being the only moron who has to raise his hand twice...Ugh.

      • "What's the use of having a class so huge that the professor can't even know all his students, doesn't grade papers(his TAs do that), the student can't necessarily see the screen well or hear the professor"

        It's more cost efficient. It saves money. Why don't all students have their own personal tutor, or only get taught in classes of ten or less? Because teachers cost money, rooms cost money, equipment cost money. If you can get 150 students through with one professor, rather than one professor per 30, well

        • Re:It saves money (Score:5, Insightful)

          by KovaaK (1347019) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:43PM (#26437065) Journal

          Clearly, there is a balance of cost and effectiveness. You can't have infinite students to one professor because very few students would get anything meaningful out of it.

          What Firethorn is arguing is that one of the major benefits of having smaller classes is the individual student-professor interactions that occur such as the ones he listed. I tend to agree with him. When a professor can hear a student's (incorrect) thought process on a problem, he may have heard similar issues before and be quick to correct them. There are plenty of incorrect ways to look at problems, but it wouldn't make sense for a professor to approach a class of 300+ and say "Don't do these problems this way - this is wrong. Also, don't do them this way. This way is wrong too."

      • > a class so huge that the professor can't even know all his students

        My maths professor can remember the faces and names (and who didn't know what) of *all* of her students, even sometimes after many years. This is amazing, "mr. [my last name], what's the definition of the rank of a matrix?", "mrs. [my friend's name], when are two complex numbers equal?", "mr. [someone], last year you didn't remember the squeeze theorem, please explain it to us", in a hall of 100+ people, and she has never mistaken anyon
        • Average teachers. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Firethorn (177587)

          I, however, wasn't lucky enough to get a professor with eidetic memory. What I got was a professor who, if I was lucky, realized he had a class.

          There are good teachers, there are bad teachers. I generally posit average. You need a very excellent teacher to effectively teach a class size over a hundred. There are reasons states pass restrictions on class sizes in primary education.

          What I discovered was that attending lecture in such a huge class was effectively useless for me. The sheer number of noises

    • Re:great (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MBGMorden (803437) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:35PM (#26436927)

      I don't know. I was in several classes that size when I was in school (both my Physics classes and 1 Astronomy class). Admittedly, the guy doing the Astronomy class was a joke. It consisted of a slide show for a lecture and the "textbook" was his own book he'd written which came from the bookstore as a collection of pages that you had to add to your own 3 ring binder. Given that I already knew most of what was in the class (having taken more advanced classes on the subject already - this was just an easy elective), after the first 2-3 weeks I stopped going and just checked the website and showed up for tests. Ended up making an A+ in the class.

      Now, the two Physics classes of this size were MUCH better handled. The professor didn't use powerpoint at all. OCCASIONALLY he'd use the overhead projector, but not for more than 1 slide. Mostly he used the chalkboard (which had a system of pullies to raise/lower 2 sets of 3 boards as needed so there was plenty of writing space available to him) to work out problems, but he also did a lot of straight lecturing, and hands on demonstrations where he'd bring in equipment, call volunteers onto the stage, etc. If you felt like shouting (or sitting close to the front) he was also more than happy to answer any questions the class might have. He was also a very funny/fun professor (as well as a complete jackass, but in an entertaining sort of way). I honestly found those two classes to be some of my most enjoyable I took, and never felt disadvantaged due to the class size.

      In general, I think that it's more difficult to teach effectively to a very large class, but it's by no means impossible.

    • I had a few classes in Kane Hall at the UW, seats 720 people. The nice thing is you can sit in the back and tell jokes to your friends or sit in front and learn depending on your mood.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Taxman415a (863020)
      That's basically the gist of the article if you read it. The feeling is the only people that are going to get a lot out of a large lecture style class are the ones that would have learned the material anyway. It's hard to tell how well researched the article is and how much of what they are talking about is actually coming from what MIT is doing, but the phrasing it uses such as active, student centered learning (the opposite on the spectrum from sit in a lecture hall and shut up) is the basics behind the e
  • by stokessd (89903) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:51PM (#26436153) Homepage

    The giant schools are not the place where the best educations come from. Sure they often have the biggest research budgets and thus are in the news the most. Smaller schools with smaller class sizes are where it's at from a value for dollar spent standpoint.

    My biggest class was intro psych and it was 75 folks. My Hydrodynamic instability was four students and the professor. Just try to hide when you haven't prepared with only three other peeps to hide behind.

    Sheldon

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:54PM (#26436183)

    Why is a 50% reduction in failures a useful stat? The schools want a certain amount of failures in these large "weeder" classes, because giving a diploma to everyone who pays waters down the value of the diploma.

    If they wanted to reduce failures, they only needed to move the curve (which was set where it was on purpose in the first place).

    Honestly, by the time you get to college, especially ones like MIT, if you can't learn because the environment isn't as cozy as it could be, I'm not sure it is completely the school's job to fix that for you. You might expect that in primary school, but you can't expect it in the world of work, so seems like college is a great place to start introducing people to the concept.

    I would have to imagine another flip side of this is the students "don't get access" (whatever that really means in a big lecture) to top professors. Teaching 80 kids at once instead of 500 means you have to run 6x as many classes and professors aren't going to do this willingly. You're probably going to end up with only access to a T.A. (teaching assistant).

    • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:56PM (#26436223) Homepage

      MIT doesn't work that way. If you can get into MIT, you should be able to get through MIT.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:03PM (#26436349)
        I'm already moderating this thread so I can't post except as AC, but I went to MIT.

        In my living group we had 18 freshman my year. 1 graduated early, 6 of us graduated "on time," a few more graduated in 5 years and the rest never graduated.

        So sorry, at least in my small sample, MIT does work that way.

      • by Auraiken (862386) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:23PM (#26436671)
        A bit on that note is that the kids who are going to MIT might usually be very intelligent and might have high grades but what may happen is that they start to burn out around this time or go through some sort of identity crisis where they want to party and relax. So this might be a big factor as well. I mean how many of you want to learn things all the time no matter how cool they can be? I know I've gotten sick of even the things that I was interested in if it was a common routine.
      • >MIT doesn't work that way. If you can get into MIT, you should be able to get through MIT.

        Should be able?

        Just because you should be able doesn't mean you will. All 4 of the people who lived in my apartment had what it took in the brains and money department to graduate. But only two of us did. They just didn't have what it took to complete their degrees. They took all the courses they liked and did great but could never finish the other required courses.

        So is the University supposed to force them throug

    • by fropenn (1116699) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:58PM (#26436263)

      Why is a 50% reduction in failures a useful stat?

      It's useful because it shows that many of the students in the class were not learning anything...which is the point of education.
      Having a larger number of people with a bachelor's degree does not make it worth less. Having a large number of people who don't know anything have a bachelor's degree makes it worth less.

      • by Luyseyal (3154)

        Having a larger number of people with a bachelor's degree does not make it worth less. Having a large number of people who don't know anything have a bachelor's degree makes it worth less.

        I don't think this is what you were thinking about when you wrote that, but economically speaking, it is worth less if more people have one. Having said that, I think the most important thing about college is for you to choose to get as much out of it as possible. That is something economics cannot take from you.

        -l

    • Bullshit. If I'm paying $40,000 a year to get an education, I expect that the university do all in it's power to facilitate the education.

      Note that they're reducing failures by 50%, not because of aptitude or student ability, but purely by changing the delivery format. Hands-on small classrooms with a low student to professor ratio has been proved time and time again to be a good thing. This is true at all levels of education, from grade school through PhD programs.

      In a big class, if you don't understand something, and aren't given the opportunity to discuss it with the professor for clarification, you're far more likely to lose interest and motivation. There's a reason why every university when recruting high school students tries to brag about low student to teacher ratios.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by reddburn (1109121)

        PROTIP: Education is not a consumer-oriented service industry. You have as much a responsibility as faculty to facilitate your own learning. Part of college is learning how to learn. Most schools offer free tutoring services, and their centers have well trained staff.

        Large research universities are not there to educate, but rather to produce knowledge. Even at state schools, tenured faculty have a greater responsibility to research than to teaching. Want proof? Look at budgets. Less than 10% of salaries i

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @03:01PM (#26437355)

          I have taught at a MAJOR university of the MIT class and at a couple of state universities. When you have an MIT with its extremely high admission standards, weeding out extremely capable students is not necessary, although you may have a "project" in getting some of them adjusted to the pace of the real world. A lot of them played with science, doing what they wanted, prior to admission but in the real world you have to do things in a more focused and directed way (unless you are a professor, ahem). Many don't take to disciplined thinking and working, and are weeded out.

          In a state university which has to admit anyone with a high enough class rank from high school, if you want a respectable degree for your graduates, you are bloody ruthless in weeding out your unworthy freshmen. That's life. I have not noticed in the two state universities I have worked in anything like "eliminating the worthy" taking place. I teach in the hard sciences, and if you are going to be worth a damn to an employer (for instance), you have to be able to take the pace of meeting large demands on your time and brainpower. At commuter schools, you have the problem of people working -- in one I am familiar with, over 70% of the students work over 30 hours a week, and it is hard for the faculty there to work students hard enough (i.e., homework) without putting the students on an 8 year plan to graduate.

          What you are seeing here with the MIT changes is an adaptation to a lot of research going on in the teaching of physics (one area I know a bit about). There are ways to re-organizing your teaching methods, and the clickers play a very large role in this if used correctly, and with properly set up support by TA's students show a 30+% improvement in standard (conceptual) test scores versus standard teaching methods. The debate is over teaching problem solving skills which can only be trivially tested on 1 hour standardized tests. Better understanding of the class overall of concepts does not mean you have helped the small percentage of real problem solvers which will be in any class in any school, the MIT's included.

          So, there is clear evidence that the modern teaching methods, used correctly, provide much more competent C students, it does not necessarily mean the two or three percent of students who are the real future of your field are getting anything more out of it. The improvement in conceptual understanding of the better students is much less dramatic, and may not even be measurable in the few you want to really get to. And, you have made a choice to not emphasize problem solving in order to increase the average conceptual understanding. Those of you out in the real world will understand that solving real problems is ultimately where it is at, not scoring well on standardized tests.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jeko (179919)

          Have you ever considered that you might be happier at a pure research institution where you wouldn't be burdened with teaching?

          It certainly sounds like your students might prefer you there...

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by raaum (152451)

            For all practical intents and purposes, places like MIT and other research universities ARE pure research institutions. Faculty at these institutions do not get hired or receive tenure because they are good (or even competent) teachers, they get hired and tenured because they have a good research program. Some may be good teachers, some may enjoy teaching, but it is a relatively small part of professorial evaluation. For that matter, most professors (at any college or university, small or large) will not ha

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Thelasko (1196535)

        If I'm paying $40,000 a year to get an education, I expect that the university do all in it's power to facilitate the education.

        Exactly, I could teach myself the material for a lot less money. I pay the money to get, as the grandparent says, a cozy environment.

        • by exploder (196936) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:58PM (#26437317) Homepage

          Most people who think they can teach themselves a subject, even to the level of a four-year degree, are overestimating their own initiative and discipline. You may be the rare exception, but if so, the system isn't designed for you anyway.

          You don't pay for a cozy environment. You pay the university to certify that you really *did* learn the material to their standards. You pay for access to experts in the field. You pay for use of facilities. All things you can't get on your own, even if you can learn everything independently.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tnk1 (899206)

          No, you pay the money to get a piece of paper that says you learned something you could have learned yourself.

          Otherwise no one would go except the people who already send their kids to private secondary schools.

          As for facilitating education, many, if not most research schools expect their faculty to be researchers, and then they take these people and expect them to also be great teachers of the material.

          Its sort of like having a respected author teach literacy or grammar classes. They don't want to be ther

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DeadDecoy (877617)
      I think a true metric of a school should not be it's failure rate as weeder classes but rather the quality of students it turns out who are ready for the real world. Maybe the problem is, we think of the failure rate as some metric for hammering out the flawed students when really it's an indicator of how (in)effective a teaching style is at helping students learn. For instance, I could go off and tell 100 people they are stupid and need to RTFM and, given that method, only a few of them will actually learn
    • Why is a 50% reduction in failures a useful stat? The schools want a certain amount of failures in these large "weeder" classes, because giving a diploma to everyone who pays waters down the value of the diploma...if you can't learn because the environment isn't as cozy as it could be, I'm not sure it is completely the school's job to fix that for you.

      I think your right, but I think it's a bit trickier than that. What I mean is, there's a great temptation to say, "As a college, it's not MIT's job to *make* every student succeed, regardless of whether they're lazy, stupid, or emotionally disturbed." There's definite truth to that. On the other hand, MIT has an interest is helping their students succeed. That's part of their proper role, and it works in favor of their own benefit for their students to be happy and successful.

      I don't mean to bring up t

    • "...because giving a diploma to everyone who pays waters down the value of the diploma."

      http://tech.mit.edu/V121/N14/col14nesmi.14c.html [mit.edu]

      "Even at MIT, where we pat ourselves on the back for our meritocratic ways until our skin is raw, admissions staffers report that legacies are granted an additional review before their rejection is finalized. At several schools, such students receive much more than an extra review. "

      Talking about a school which even considers "legacy" status in admissions not wanting to giv

  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <`moc.liamg' `ta' `yppupcinataS'> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:00PM (#26436299) Journal

    Massive lecture halls were completely pointless in my experience. The only correlation between attendance and my grade was actually a negative correlation: the less I went, the better my grades got.

    I had one class, a planetary geology course, where I was told in the first class that there was no way I could pass without attending class (to watch his boring-ass slideshows, which were going to be on the exam). That was the last class I went to, and I aced the class and the final.

    Likewise physics, and all the gut CS classes (everything up to the 300 level). If you have a question, you're fucked anyway, because with 200+ students, you'll never be able to ask it...Half the time they put you off to the end of the lecture anyway, and then they tell you to ask the TA during the practicum or the lab.

    After I graduated I heard that they'd put in this system where you had to "rent" this fricking remote control, register it (unique serial number, so they could track you attendance) and use it to input multiple choice answers to questions the prof put on the board. I can only imagine the benefits felt by the students [/sarcasm]

    Save your time for the practicum, keep on top of the syllabus, and let the prof drone on at 8:00am while you get an extra hour of shuteye.

    • by CompMD (522020)

      RENT?! I wish we could have done that. We had to buy them from the bookstore for $30, and then we weren't allowed to sell them back.

      • Honestly I don't know how they did it; I was gone before that point, thank god, (though I swear I remember that the remotes were transferable). I always put my lecture classes in really awful time slots...I can't imagine actually GOING to class then.

        In the really big classes the exams were these HUGE affairs and they were held for multiple sections, and always at night and not usually in the same lecture halls, so I never even had to get up for the exams.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dogun (7502)

      I /went/ through the goddamn 8.01 TEAL pilot, then 8.02 TEAL. It was like chewing on glass. You spend easily 20-30% of the class time fiddling with the stupid response system, and less time getting through the material.

      If you look carefully at the picture in TFA, you can see the vitality pouring out of these poor students. They're just awake enough to fiddle with their remote when prompted. Nobody's listening.

      It's the professor who makes or breaks the lecture format. Frankly, I would have been sorely d

      • A good lecturer absolutely makes a huge difference, but they're rare enough to call the whole format into question.

        Mandatory attendance makes me homicidal. Every class I've been in that took strict attendance was a waste of time. Now, classes that grade based on participation I have no problem with; that's a much more valid metric for a lot of classes.

        But yea, the ability to fill a seat shouldn't factor in your grade. If that's all you need to do, you don't need to be there, and if you can do well in the cl

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dondelelcaro (81997)

      After I graduated I heard that they'd put in this system where you had to "rent" this fricking remote control, register it (unique serial number, so they could track you attendance) and use it to input multiple choice answers to questions the prof put on the board. I can only imagine the benefits felt by the students

      Used properly, these things can actually be fairly useful, as they allow a lecturer to get immediate feedback as to whether students have grasped the material being covered in the lecture. They

      • Yes and no. You understand the number of people who don't get it, but it still doesn't solve the problem of helping the 10% or so who aren't going to get it without a little face time...Something you can't give in a huge class.

        I can't see any benefit for a class of 30; you can usually get a little extra time there just by asking a question. That 10% is just a handful of questions there.

  • by mfh (56) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:04PM (#26436367) Homepage Journal

    This means your chance of getting into MIT just decreased by over 9000%.

  • IMHO (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:08PM (#26436409) Journal
    The schools with the large lecture halls just want your money. They accept everyone, (not MIT of course) and then weed you out by making learning as difficult as possible. They get a semester or two of tuition at very little cost to them. Good schools may have lower acceptance rates, but higher graduation rates.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CheshireCatCO (185193)

      I think you need numbers to back that assertion up. I haven't seen stats on the large universities, but at my small, private alma mater, tuition covered about 1/3 of the expenses of educating a single student. Now, I'll grant you that they put more money INTO each student almost certainly. BUT, the tuition was also several times higher than at public universities I saw around that time. And I know for a fact that the single largest source of money for the University of Colorado is contracts and grants (

  • great story /. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mattwarden (699984)

    Large impersonal classrooms reduce accountability for attendance and decrease overall learning rates. Film at 11.

  • sink or swim (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kartoffel (30238) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:10PM (#26436431)

    I had a couple monster lecture hall classes as an undergrad. They were usually either introductory courses or weed-out courses. TFA is right that by the end of the semester addentance is cut in half. Students either don't need to attend anymore (introductory course) or they have already dropped it (in the case of a weed-out course).

    Big U's are THE place to be for grad students and researchers. If you can manage to keep your head above water as an undergrad you will be better acclimated.

  • Parents, teachers, and professors like to view lecture halls as being too impersonal to effectively teach. Students view more personal classrooms as cramped and uncomfortable. I'd argue that sitting in a movie theatre seat for an hour and half certainly improves my ability to learn more than sitting closer to the teacher, but on a fucking wooden plank.
  • by jglov (1371125) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:19PM (#26436609)
    Where will students go to take their afternoon naps now?
  • by Toonol (1057698) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:22PM (#26436663)
    ...but this just happened. I got a phone call this morning from my son, who is a Freshman just beginning his second term in college (math/physics major).

    His college requires all freshman to take three credits of social/cultural liberals arts classes focused on diversity, understanding, and rainbows. On the plus side, they focus on writing weekly research papers, which is probably a good habit for freshman to pick up.

    In this specific class, the teacher was warning against the perfidious institution of sexism in places of power, and gave the evil ex-dean of harvard as an example. I happen to have had conversations about that with my son, and so when the teacher asked for open discussion, my son spoke up. He said that as he understood it, the Harvard dean was a poor example of sexism, since all he stated was that there was possibly may be some physical difference in brain development between the genders that lead to the male preponderance in hard sciences.

    The teacher turned red, started to stammer, so my son stopped talking. By the end of the day, he had been notified that he had been removed from the class. Now, he's probably learned a good lesson... shut up and don't engage in free discussion in a class that encourages free discussion, until he gets a feel for the teacher's maturity. It's an unfortunate lesson, but probably necessary. I should stress that he is always polite, and always soft-spoken; there would have been nothing objectionable about his behavior.

    To bring this back to topic, perhaps losing face-to-face contact and easy interactivity with the professor and other students is not really much of a loss. Except for the best teachers, most classes are no more educational than spending an hour with a textbook, and sometimes (when personalities get involved) much worse.
    • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:28PM (#26436775)

      Remember that you learned this preposterous story from your son, who learned his concept of reality with you. Your acceptance of this obviously falsified or wildly embellished story as reality shows that your understanding of reality is deeply flawed. This, in turn, implies that your son's understanding of reality is similarly flawed. By the time the story gets to us through you two highly imperfect filters, it's pretty much meaningless.

      • by exploder (196936) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:49PM (#26437173) Homepage

        Yup. No way the OP's son got removed from a class for that. I've seen plenty of *actual* misbehavior from dumbass freshmen that never led to their removal from class.

        This sounds like the kind of "look what the libruls are doing *now*" sort of email that circulates among my Christian/conservative acquaintances.

        • by timholman (71886) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @03:18PM (#26437693)

          This sounds like the kind of "look what the libruls are doing *now*" sort of email that circulates among my Christian/conservative acquaintances.

          Exactly. In particular, note this part:

          The teacher turned red, started to stammer, so my son stopped talking.

          In other words, the wise conservative student outwits the mush-brained liberal professor and humiliates him in front of everyone, just by stating the facts! In reality, of course, the professor would just steamroller over any argument or fact thrown at him, and keep right on going. Anyone who has met the type knows exactly what I mean.

          This sounds like something right out of Snopes. I'll bet I could find a variant of this exact story if I looked hard enough.

      • by sunking2 (521698)
        While a little bit over zealous and pompous, pretty much right on. Next we'll hear about how his roomate killed himself and he is receiving a 4.0.
      • by DrVomact (726065)

        Remember that you learned this preposterous story from your son, who learned his concept of reality with you. Your acceptance of this obviously falsified or wildly embellished story as reality shows that your understanding of reality is deeply flawed. This, in turn, implies that your son's understanding of reality is similarly flawed. By the time the story gets to us through you two highly imperfect filters, it's pretty much meaningless.

        Sir, I have carefully examined your comment for irony, and regretfully

    • Blah blah blah. There are plenty of good liberal arty classes that aren't taught by morons, and frankly, a weekly "research project" is a terrible idea: how can you fully develop a real idea in a bare week? You're talking a make-work snippet with zero depth.

      Though, yea, you have to watch out for profs in classes where the grades have an arbitrary element. I got screwed a couple of times by that myself, though I've never heard of actually being removed from a class without some exceptional situation.

    • by timholman (71886) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:49PM (#26437167)

      The teacher turned red, started to stammer, so my son stopped talking. By the end of the day, he had been notified that he had been removed from the class.

      I've been teaching at public and private universities for many years, and I have yet to see or hear of a undergraduate class where a professor could arbitrarily drop a student from that class without that student's permission, just because the student said something politically incorrect.

      So tell me, what university was this? And what reason did your son claim was given for this supposed drop? And why didn't he raise holy hell with the administration for such a flagrant and prejudicial abuse of faculty power, assuming such power even exists?

      I call shennanigans. I suggest you contact the dean's office and find out the real reason your son dropped the class.

    • by cowscows (103644)

      Well, if it actually went down the way your son told you, then I think he's learned the wrong lesson. If I was removed from a class over a reason as silly as that, I would make some significant efforts to have either that teacher or his/her superiors have to answer for it. You might have to pester the hell out of them, but it can be done. I'd expect to at least be allowed back into the class, and maybe with an apology from the teacher. The lesson here is to not be such a sissy, and that sometimes you have t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Goldsmith (561202)

      The useful lesson here is not about free speech, but that the way in which you say something is just as important as the content of what you say.

      The professor was trying explain that Summers was wrong for the way in which he said things (an evaluation Summers agrees with), regardless of the content. Having just explained the need for tact and the awful consequences that come from ignoring that need, does your son's comment seem so harmless?

      Even as a physical scientist, I have to be careful of this. Tact i

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CheshireCatCO (185193)

      First of all, what got Larry Sommers in trouble was that he said that *after* an entire conference on exactly why what he suggest wasn't true. In other words, he had been ignoring the very meeting he was there to attend. Whether it was sexism (ignoring what he didn't want to hear) or just being rude (which I consider more likely) is an open question.

      Second, there are *some* students who learn more from a textbook than from face-to-face, interactive learning. However, research (Kolb, for example) shows th

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Oh please. The truth is we don't know a lot of how the brain works and a lot on behavioral genetics. There ARE differences between men and women whether you want to admit it or not. Speculating that there very well could be an innate reason why men and women have different ratios in different fields is fine, which is what he did.

        The conference was titled, "Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce". From what I can see, it wasn't necessarily about *why*, it was about "what we sh

  • Synonymous? (Score:4, Informative)

    by TomRK1089 (1270906) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:22PM (#26436667)

    "...the massive lecture hall synonymous with achieving a bachelors of science."

    Synonymous? Maybe at large colleges, but guess what -- you can get a degree without that experience. It's called a smaller school. Sadly, many of my high school compatriots looked at "name brand" first, and size or cost second, if at all. For any high school slashdotters listening, I have a secret -- it's the same degree. My father went to state school in RI, and was recruited by Raytheon before he'd even graduated. He was working alongside graduates from all the Ivy Leagues, getting paid the same. It doesn't matter what the name on the diploma is, what matters is the effort you put in and the skills you provide for your employer. Save your money, avoid crippling student loan debt, and get those smaller class sizes anyways.

    Smaller university equals smaller classes. The largest class I've ever had at my university was 40 students -- hardly unmanageable. Consider these things first, since you're going to school for your degree, not bragging rights, at least ostensibly so.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      My father went to state school in RI, and was recruited by Raytheon before he'd even graduated. He was working alongside graduates from all the Ivy Leagues, getting paid the same. It doesn't matter what the name on the diploma is, what matters is the effort you put in and the skills you provide for your employer.

      If you are trying to decide whether to go to a big name school or Podunk State University, please don't listen to the anecdotal evidence of parent poster. Whether you are trying to make it in ind

  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:24PM (#26436707)
    One of the professors who implemented this was a classmate of mine and we talked about this several years ago. MIT's big initial concern was cost. Lab space takes more room than lecture hall seats. Plus you have run the class much more often to keep the lab size down to manageable numbers. Combined this is almost an order of magnitude of more capital and labor than your standard lecture course.

    The NY Times article pretty much lists the advantages. Foremost is an improving the pass rate from 85% to 95%. Second is students learn and retain the material better. Freshmen courses are the basis of subsequent coursework. Third is more efficient grading. Students and professors are being given automatic feedback. You dont need as many problems sets and exams. (A disaster for the MIT tradition of showering freshmen on the night before the first physics midterm :-)

    There are hybrid solutions to make lectures more interactive. Something as simple as clickers, like they use in TV game shows, to give the prof immediate feedback and keep students focused on lectures. And this costs on $50 per student.
  • I got my undergrad degree from Berzerkeley. At the time, Art History was pretty much a required course. It was held only at 8 AM, in Wheeler Auditorium (this was before somebody burned it down). Promptly at 8AM, the prof would turn out the lights and start showing slides. Mostly they were The Madonna of This and That, by some Italian guy. My max was five madonnas, after which I would be in deep REM sleep. I mean...they expected me to stay awake? In the dark ? At EIGHT IN THE MORNING????

    The only thing I

  • watch costs climb (Score:3, Informative)

    by StupendousMan (69768) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @03:17PM (#26437667) Homepage

    Disclaimer: I teach physics at an American university.

    When you switch from a big lecture class to small, "workshop" rooms which use computer-based sensors, you raise the cost of the class by factors of many.

    • it now takes six professors to teach the class instead of one
    • the computers and sensors are now used almost every day, instead of once a week or so, which means that if they break, they halt a class dead in the water. That means you need more spares, and you need to upgrade computers more frequently.

    Smaller classes are good -- of course. I am much more effective in smaller classes than in a big lecture. But do students want to pay 4-7 times more for the privilege of having small classes?

    I'm teaching a "workshop" class in which I can't depend on the computers at all. It doesn't bother me -- I have exercises which use metersticks and stopwatches. But it does cause problems for professors who have become used to using the nice computer-based sensors. Our department/university just can't afford to replace the computers right now.

    I'm just trying to point out that changing the way some courses are taught may lead to increased costs. That's all.

  • Scalability (Score:3, Insightful)

    by abelenky17 (548645) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @03:51PM (#26438219)

    There's a gigantic unanswered question here: How does this scale?

    Under the large-lecture system in place when I was at MIT ('92), 300+ students filled the lecture hall two times a day, 3 days a week. That is 600+ students taking class 8.01 (Intro Physics). This required one professor to deliver the lecture, and a handful of TA's to handle recitations and study groups.

    Under the system described in the article, only 80 students are taught at a time. But *each* class requires a professor and a team of TA's. To handle 600+ students taking the class, it would require 8 classroom sessions, 3 times a week, each involving a prof and TA's. That's 24 hours a week the prof is spending in class teaching. (not even counting prep-time, grading papers, or office-hours).

    This system, for whatever successes it might have, just doesn't seem to scale. It seems to put a huge load on the prof and TAs.

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