At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard

At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard

By SARA RIMER The New York Times January 13, 2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - For as long as anyone can remember, introductory physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was taught in a vast windowless amphitheater known by its number, 26-100.

Squeezed into the rows of hard, folding wooden seats, as many as 300 freshmen anxiously took notes while the professor covered multiple blackboards with mathematical formulas and explained the principles of Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetism.

But now, with physicists across the country pushing for universities to do a better job of teaching science, M.I.T. has made a striking change.

The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.

M.I.T. is not alone. Other universities are changing their ways, among them Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Harvard. In these institutions, physicists have been pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.

The traditional 50-minute lecture was geared more toward physics majors, said Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard who is a pioneer of the new approach, and whose work has influenced the change at M.I.T.


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Monty Solomon
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Really?!? -- read on.

Type "MIT", "physics", and "Keller Plan" into Google and get 290 hits, of which the first four, all dated 1971, are appended below. The Abstract for one of these reads:

"Traces the development of a Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through four semesters of large-scale use in introductory courses [accompanied by massive hype and publicity about the plan ... comment added] ***until the program's suspension *** [a very short time later].

Rule 1: The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Rule 2: All major educational experiments are massive successes [and are massively hyped as such].

Rule 3: All such experiments then quietly disappear.

================== Physics Teaching by the Keller Plan at MIT EJ041008 - Physics Teaching by the Keller Plan at MIT.

The Rise and Fall of PSI in Physics at MIT EJ136804 - The Rise and Fall of PSI in Physics at MIT

Physics Teaching by the Keller Plan at MIT--[American Journal of ... The Keller plan (a self-paced, student-tutored, mastery- oriented instructional system) has spread widely ...

Physics Teaching by the Keller Plan at MIT. Authors: Green, Ben A. Affiliation: Education Research Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, ...

***** Moderator's Note *****

The first hit I got was from

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The title of the page I saw is "EJ041008 - Physics Teaching by the Keller Plan at MIT". I don't know if it's a different version than the one you used, but here's a quote from the first page:

Abstract: Reports experiences with the Keller Plan (a self-paced, student-tutored, mastery-oriented system) in introductory physics, including student reactions to course and comments on how the course is run. Results of the program are favorable, with students reporting more thorough and efficient learning. (PR)

I tried to read further, but the site says it doesn't have permission to show it. This subject interests me _A_ _LOT_: as the father of a developmentally-delayed child, I've seen the inside of the beast that passes for an educational "system" in the U.S., and I'd really like to know more. Please provide more details on the reasons that the plan proved ineffective, and when it was withdrawn. TIA.

Bill Horne Moderator

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