The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Interactive science classes benefit black, first-generation college students, study finds

(Don Heupel/AP)

A new study about college-level science shows that all students do much better when traditional lecture classes are made interactive — but those most helped are first-generation and black students.

The study — titled “Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work?” — looked at data from six semesters of large science lecture courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The researchers compared student achievement in classes  with a traditional structure — in which students listened to a traditional lecture from a teacher and did not do any work until it was time to study the night before an exam — with student achievement in classes that had an interactive structure, in which students did homework that prepared them for performing activities during class, for which they received credit.

UNC’s Kelly Hogan and Sarah Eddy from the University of Washington at Seattle found that all students in the interactive classes performed better than those in traditional lecture courses, but the greatest benefit was seen with black and first-generation students; the achievement gap was halved for black students and disappeared for first-generation students.

A release about the study quoted Hogan as saying:

“If I’m talking at students, they’re shopping, they’re on ESPN or Facebook. But if I ask them a question and have them wrestle with it, they are listening now because they are engaged in solving that problem.”

Students responded to surveys given to them at the end of their course and those in the interactive classes said they felt they were part of a learning community and spent more time studying and preparing for class than those in the traditional lecture courses.