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.
Some bits you might find interesting: clickers! Homework due several times a week! And the biggest of all: attendance counts!
The new approach at M.I.T. is known by its acronym, TEAL, for Technology Enhanced Active Learning....A $10 million donation from the late Alex d’Arbeloff, an M.I.T. alumnus, co-founder of the high-tech company Teradyne, and former M.I.T. corporation chairman, made the switch to TEAL possible. The two state-of-the-art TEAL classrooms alone cost $2.5 million, Professor Belcher said.
The article says the failure rate is down, and performance is up. But then again, with required attendance, the failure rate could easily drop.
Is this constructivism? Are the teachers teaching any more? Or guides on the side? Well, guess what? The students hate it.
from the MIT paper, The Tech, in 2006:
"Most students do not bother to hide their dislike for TEAL. Their list of grievances is long and oft-repeated: the physical set-up of small tables makes it difficult to see the lecturer, the numerous homework assignments are tedious, the in-class problems are gone over too quickly, the students strong in physics end up doing all the work, and so on."
Though student complaints are numerous, a number of changes have in fact been integrated into TEAL since its inception. Professor Eric Hudson, course administrator for 8.02T, has worked on modifications including more undergraduate teaching assistants in the classroom, fewer experiments (a drop from 18 to 10), and an emphasis on faculty training. Still being tested is the new AIM screenname iheart802, which will allow students to instant message a TA during class.
But even with the changes, the irrefutable fact remains: students are uninspired by the course. Dourmashkin admits that “students don’t like to go to class,” while Professor John Joannopoulos, who teaches a section of 8.02T this semester, said that there is a “tendency for students to be lax and lose concentration.”
Freshman Sarah Levin ’09, currently a TEAL student, said that “all of TEAL is so unmotivating because it’s so tedious that I don’t put any effort into the class and because of it I’m losing a good percentage of my grade just by lack of attendance.”
Shaw sees this problem as well. “Students come out of TEAL with a dislike for physics, and they seem less inclined to major in physics. TEAL has never done a good job in instilling a sense of why [learning] this is important.”
but I think this is the giveaway:
There are “lots of ways to do active learning,” Belcher said, citing a study conducted at Harvard that exhibited stronger learner gains than TEAL in a lecture environment with regular student involvement. “The important thing is to have students interact with students,” he said.
ah, yes, that's why I was such a poor student at MIT. Because I interacted so seldomly with STUDENTS! uh....no....not exactly.
another student's comments on TEAL:
I strongly suspect the NOOLT ("No One Likes Teal") phenomenon occured because TEAL, as I overheard someone whose name I can't remember say, "is the perfect example of when too much technology can be a bad thing."
We sit in tables of nine in groups of three. Each group has a computer to enable the learning process. Most of the time, though, it's used to watch the power point that's already projected in four (or more) different places around the room. (Sometimes these computers are used for Facebook. We're going to ignore that data.) In the beginning of the year, we took a diagnostic test and we were assigned to tables in a fashion that would keep an even distribution of physics background at the tables (meaning that all the people who took AP Physics in high school wouldn't sit in the same place).
This is all geared towards collaborative learning, which is nice in theory, but what happened in my experience is that the people at the table who knew what they're doing would work through the problem, and I would be left in the dark in terms of where this equation came from and what that one means. The idea was to learn from eachother, except that I feel that we do plenty of this while working on p(roblem)-sets. Personally, I'd like classtime to be geared more towards learning from the teacher.
And finally, this one culled from the comments on the NYT article:
This article is wildly misleading about the success of TEAL. As a member of the class of 2009, I was one of the first students required to participate in TEAL of I chose to take 8.01 (Mechanics). I then took TEAL again for Electricity and Magnetism (8.02).
If you notice in the pitcure, the TEAL classroom is a windowless, dark room that causes drowsiness better than any cold medicine. Each class is 2 hours long and you work with two other people that you have not chosen yourself. On fridays, you are to complete a small quiz with these people and all three of you recieve a grade for it. What ends up happening is the one person in the group does the problem and has no real motivation to explain it to you other than common courtesy.
The grades may have gotten better, but that is only because you get a grade for sitting there as well as about a thousand other assignments that are due at a thousand different times.
Here is a rundown of what you have to do for a TEAL class:
Weekly problem sets (4-10 hours), class time (5 hours), 1 quiz (1 hour), twice weekly "mastering physics" assignments online (each can take as little as 5 min and as much as two days to complete), Office hours, almost always necessary (3 hours)
The system does not foster an interest in Physics, but further enhances your distaste for it. My memories of the classes have nothing to do with the material, but with trudging through the snow to get to sunday office hours because despite all of this technology, the problems were STILL too difficult to do without help, with sitting in my room with 5 other friends trying to finish the online mastering physics assignment before the midnight deadline looking for the midnight deadline, and waking up at 8AM for a 9AM TEAL class knowing I'd be asleep by 9:15.
Do not be fooled by MIT's spokespeople. TEAL is very unpopular among students. Especially me.
Of course, MIT is an odd place, where the number one pastime is hating MIT. The unofficial student motto is "IHTFP", which stands for "I hate this place." So maybe this is just par for the course.