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Closing the achievement gap: Study finds black UNC students benefited from hands-on classes

The achievement gap between black and white students was narrowed in college classes that stressed “active learning” over lectures, according to a study published this week by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor.

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Dr. Kelly Hogan Source: UNC-Chapel Hill

The New York Times had this article yesterday about the study conducted by UNC biology professor Kelly Hogan and Sarah Eddy of the University of Washington at Seattle.

The study found freshman students who were black or whose parents didn’t attend college had test scores rise (by an average of six points) when students took an introductory biology class taught through interactive methods — teamwork, in-class activities and online quizzes – over a class taught via lectures.

Hogan found that black students cut the achievement gap in half when in classes that stressed more hands-on activities, and first-generation students saw gaps between themselves and other students disappear.

From the New York Times article:

The study, published Tuesday in the journal CBE Life Sciences Education, looked at six semesters of an introductory biology class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, taken mostly by freshmen. Three terms took a more traditional, lecture-based approach, and three demanded more participation by students. The classes averaged almost 400 students, and were taught by Dr. Hogan.

The more active approach gave students more in-class activities, often done in teams, including sets of online exercises. There were similar online exercises assigned to be completed before class along with textbook reading, intended to force students to think about the material rather than just memorize it, and still others for review after a lesson. Many of the exercises were ungraded, but the instructor could tell whether students had done them.

The active strategy, Dr. Hogan said, left less time for lecturing and made much of the traditional lecture moot, anyway. It helped students get more out of the reading — and, crucially, made it much harder for them to skip the reading.

“In a traditional lecture course, they’re not held accountable for being prepared for class, and they really don’t need to be, because an instructor is going to tell them everything he or she wants them to know,” Dr. Hogan said. “Would you read a report for a meeting if you knew your boss was going to spend 15 minutes summarizing it for you? I know I wouldn’t.”

To read the entire news article, click here. The study itself can be read here.

Hogan also spoke about her work in closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged students in this 2012 video.

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