Ditching Lecture Halls at MIT

Underclassmen have been attending classes at universities the same way for generations.

Students plunk down in a large lecture hall and listen (sometimes) to the professor droning up on a stage.

The difference for today’s students is that increasingly it’s difficult to fall asleep during these lectures because the halls are often so jammed that stragglers have to stand in the back. Some overcrowded schools have even mounted televisions outside the halls for the overflow crowd.

Obviously this is not an optimum way to teach college students. Some universities, however, are trying innovative ways to eliminate some of the packing-house feel to higher ed.

The New York Times recently detailed MIT’s decision to ditch the lecture format of two introductory physics classes and replace them with smaller lab-like classes that promote participation. The school made the move in part because professors concede that the large lecture format leads to more students — even MIT eggheads — failing their classes.

I talk about innovative teaching techniques — including in the sciences — in my book, The College Solution. In fact, I was happy to see that some of the schools doing innovative work that I mention in my book made it into The New York Times article. One of the most innovative schools for physics is North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

When researching universities look beyond brand names. Asking about innovative teaching approaches could increase your child’s chances of earning a college degree.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution:  A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price.

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