kitchen table math, the sequel: more time in groups, less learning

Thursday, April 14, 2011

more time in groups, less learning

Speaking of group work:
PAUL M. MASON does not give his business students the same exams he gave 10 or 15 years ago. “Not many of them would pass,” he says.


Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. In their new book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major.

This is not a small corner of academe. The family of majors under the business umbrella — including finance, accounting, marketing, management and “general business” — accounts for just over 20 percent, or more than 325,000, of all bachelor’s degrees awarded annually in the United States, making it the most popular field of study.


IN “Academically Adrift,” Dr. Arum and Dr. Roksa looked at the performance of students at 24 colleges and universities. At the beginning of freshman year and end of sophomore year, students in the study took the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a national essay test that assesses students’ writing and reasoning skills. During those first two years of college, business students’ scores improved less than any other group’s. Communication, education and social-work majors had slightly better gains; humanities, social science, and science and engineering students saw much stronger improvement.

What accounts for those gaps? Dr. Arum and Dr. Roksa point to sheer time on task. Gains on the C.L.A. closely parallel the amount of time students reported spending on homework. Another explanation is the heavy prevalence of group assignments in business courses: the more time students spent studying in groups, the weaker their gains in the kinds of skills the C.L.A. measures.

The Default Major Skating Through B-School
Published: April 14, 2011
Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses


Anonymous said...

Was the classification of students based on their major at the beginning or end of the time period? One could also explain the phenomenon by movement of the weak students into certain majors, rather than by differences in the pedagogy in the majors. (Personally, I think both are happening, but I'm curious whether the study made any attempt to separate different pedagogy from student choices.)

Crimson Wife said...

The GMAT statistic is skewed by the fact that few of the top schools offer an undergraduate business major. Penn, Cornell, Georgetown, and Notre Dame do, but I can't think of any others. At most of the top schools, if a student wants to study business, he/she has to major in Economics or Industrial Engineering.

Catherine Johnson said...

I don't think they looked at apples to apples -- but on the other hand I **think** communication majors fared better than business majors. (Take that with a grain of salt; I have to check to see whether I'm remembering correctly.)

Offhand, I don't see where business majors would attract less talented kids than communication majors.

Anonymous said...

Neither Business (at most schools) nor Communications (at pretty much all schools) carries any risk of flunking your essential courses. No hard calculus. No Middle English. No Chemistry. That's not to say that you can't learn a lot in those majors; many do. But if your goal is to avoid truly hard work, to avoid having to overcome something you just don't understand at the beginning, those majors would be good bets.