Hello again! A month has passed and no blogging took place here at the College Needs Corner… Today is the day I want to blog again.

An article by Dan Berrett that was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on October 25, 2012, and titled “Lectures Still Dominate Science and Math Teaching, Sometimes Hampering Student Success” stirred my curiosity.

I had taught Computer Science (one of the STEM fields) for more than 6 years, in different places, both in USA and abroad. Students who don’t succeed in Computer Science or students who just get low grades are those who came to college with a background missing certain learning skills or certain basic knowledge one should acquire in high school. Also, those who don’t succeed may also be unaware or unwilling to make the intellectual effort required by such a rigorous discipline. This has been my personal experience. Others may have different experiences. I would be glad to hear from them.


Following is some information about the article I read, quoted from ACM TechNews. I inserted my own thoughts.

“Efforts to boost graduates from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs may be impeded by the continued reliance on lecturing. Fewer than 40 percent of students entering college intending to be a STEM major complete a degree in a STEM field, according the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. However, an institutional survey in 1997 revealed poor teaching to be the main concern among both STEM graduates and those who had left those majors, and STEM teaching at that time consisted of lecturing.”

Well this is quite an old survey, and I would very much want to find out how did it reveal that lecturing is poor teaching. Certainly, lecturing should be combined with questions for students during lecture, with problem solving in class during lecture, with many examples, and maybe other teaching methods. But then what is a class, if not lecturing?

“A more recent UCLA poll found that STEM faculty tend to grade on a curve at twice the rate of non-STEM faculty.”

Does the article not mention the date of this more recent survey? I did not grade on a curve…

“University of British Columbia professor Carl E. Wieman reports that grading on a curve signifies STEM educators’ unfamiliarity with educationally effective practices. He also says faculty are seldom trained in creating valid learning measures, and they lack feedback on the quality of their examinations.”

Why is it so? Why don’t teach STEM faculty educationally effective practices?

“Wieman emphasizes that faculty design practice tasks for students that are suitable to their levels of comprehension, but still rigorous enough to require intense intellectual effort. Work assigned inside and outside class should link patterns of expert thinking in the field to students’ already acquired knowledge, and motivate them appropriately.”

Sure, I agree with this. Although, it seems that the article complains that this does not happen, and that the assigned work is inappropriate. I doubt this is a general trend. I recently took an online Computer Science course from Stanford University. The course was quite well prepared, there were both lectures and examples discussed by the professor. (He recorded his talks and the students could listen and see the professor talking.) Besides, the assigned work was very much appropriate, a little challenging but nevertheless was linked to the knowledge acquired from lectures.

You may not agree with me, but I like lectures, I mean good lectures.

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