CBE—Life Sciences Education, published by ASCB, reveals that this strategy is especially powerful for black and first-generation college students. An active-learning strategy in an introductory biology course halved the black-white achievement gap and significantly improved the outcome for first-generation college students compared with students in a lecture-based class."Active-learning interventions," in which passive lectures are replaced with interactive activities, moving lecture materials to homework and outside readings, have been shown by STEM education researchers in recent years to be strikingly effective, but a new study published on September 2 in
Kelly A. Hogan, director of instructional innovation at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, led the study, which was just featured in the New York Times. Hogan and co-author Sarah Eddy, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, studied an active-learning strategy that had been shown in earlier studies to be successful in increasing performance across all students. But Hogan and Eddy sought to determine whether student subpopulations would respond differently.
The data came from six one-semester introduction to biology courses for mixed-majors, offered at the UNC Chapel Hill and taught by Hogan. Half of the courses were taught in a traditional lecture-based approach. The other three employed active learning. The average class size was 393 students. Fourteen percent of students were black and 24% were the first generation in their families to attend college. The active learning intervention included graded preparatory assignments, extensive student in-class engagement, and graded review assignments.
Their data showed that the active-learning strategy halved the black-white achievement gap and reduced the gap between continuing-generation and first-generation college students. All students completed reading assignments more frequently and the in-class interaction helped students perceive their class as a learning community. Failure rates decreased for all students, and performance increased for all students.