On Tuesday of this week (October 25th), the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy sponsored a nationwide Active Learning Day. The goal of the program was to foster a discussion about effective teaching practices in STEM from Kindergarten through college and to encourage the adoption of such strategies in our classrooms. President Obama described the objectives of Active Learning Day in this way:
On Active Learning Day, we encourage educators to provide opportunities for each of our Nation’s daughters and sons to engage in active science, technology, engineering, and math learning and discover firsthand the power they have to bring their bold ideas to life. By using active learning techniques in our classrooms and out-of-school spaces, we are not only enabling students to take charge of their education, but also equipping them with the tools they need to solve our biggest problems and chart our country’s course.
Many educators on Twitter used #ActiveLearningDay to talk about initiatives at their schools and on their campuses. Indeed, CTE staff tweeted about a number of our instructors who are maximizing their use of active learning in the classroom. Others took the opportunity to provide links to research on the benefits of active learning. I focused much of my time on this strand of the conversation and have created a Storify of my Twitter activity from the event.
What I wanted to comment on in this post, though, is the all-too-predictable turn the conversation eventually took on social media. After a while, I began to notice the familiar argument from some folks that active learning will spell the death of lectures. On the other side of the coin, others were suggesting that maybe active learning *should* spell the death of lectures.
As many faculty and education researchers know, the active learning vs. lecture argument creates a false binary. We can do both! There are even scholars who posit the model of "active" or "interactive lecturing" to suggest ways that all of these strategies can be productively combined. The term "active learning" is a big umbrella that includes many different kinds of strategies--one of which is lecturing.
The key is to choose our pedagogical methods based on what will help our students to learn more deeply. There is no one-size-fits-all model here, but if we focus on student learning, the decision about teaching strategies becomes that much easier.