Active learning has differential benefits for underserved students

April 20, 2020 at 7:00 am 5 comments

We have had evidence that active learning teaching methods have more benefit for underserved populations than for majority groups (for example, I discussed the differential impact of active learning here). Just published in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science is a meta-analysis of over 40 studies giving us the strongest argument yet: “Active learning narrows achievement gaps for underrepresented students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math” at I’ll remind everyone that a terrific resource for peer instruction in computer science is here:

Achievement gaps increase income inequality and decrease workplace diversity by contributing to the attrition of underrepresented students from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors. We collected data on exam scores and failure rates in a wide array of STEM courses that had been taught by the same instructor via both traditional lecturing and active learning, and analyzed how the change in teaching approach impacted underrepresented minority and low-income students. On average, active learning reduced achievement gaps in exam scores and passing rates. Active learning benefits all students but offers disproportionate benefits for individuals from underrepresented groups. Widespread implementation of high-quality active learning can help reduce or eliminate achievement gaps in STEM courses and promote equity in higher education.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. orcmid  |  April 20, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    This sent me running off to find examples of active learning, including Peer Instruction. I would have loved the Cynthia Bailey Lee Discrete Mathematics class :), although I ponder how to set up modus ponens better :(.

    Out of curiosity, it seems that these ideas and the evidence of employment have been around for several years now. Is there some notion of how the uptake can progress given the disruptive change to the lecture (institutionalized, popular) notion of pouring stuff into the heads of others?

    In a distance-oriented situation that we are facing into, are there adaptations of these ideas? I immediately wonder about computer-mediated support, but I will slap down my code-monkey brain and ask about just the interactions among distant participants. What might the patterns be?

    I have a practical case in mind, related to models of computation and applied (theoretical) computer science. That is what draws my attention here.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  April 20, 2020 at 12:11 pm

      What do you mean by “evidence of employment”? Yes, I’m trying to do peer instruction during remote emergency teaching:

      • 3. orcmid  |  April 21, 2020 at 12:47 pm

        I meant employment of active learning, the evidence of success where it has been employed.

        Sorry, didn’t consider other sense of “employment.”

      • 4. orcmid  |  April 21, 2020 at 1:00 pm

        When I pursued an on-line M.Sc in IT a decade ago, I found the asynchrony (international participation) and discussion activities the most interesting. I had forgotten that. The most discouraging part for me was the final solo project, where my perfectionism and too-ambitious scoping defeated me :). In later MOOCs, the discussions have also been invaluable for me. I must figure out more about that with regard to some software that is meant to be instructive :).

  • […] highlighting PI because the evidence suggests that it has a differential impact (see study here). It doesn’t hurt the top students, but it reduces failure rate (measured in multiple CS courses) […]


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