A Diverse Student Body Needs Diverse Approaches to Learning

No surprise:  research suggests that higher education isn’t a “one-size-fits all” concern.  A recent piece in the Atlantic describes some of the latest thinking in this regard:

The results of [a study by Kelly Hogan, a biology professor at the University of North Carolina, and Sarah L. Eddy, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington] showed a stark difference in how changes in teaching styles affect minority students.

Average Course Grades Under Both Teaching Styles

Predicted course grades for students with an average SAT math and verbal score of 1257 (The Atlantic)

From the graph it’s clear that the new model was effective across the board, but it really worked for minorities. The gap between black students and their white and Asian counterparts (the two highest performing demographics in the class) shrunk from 5.5 percent under traditional lecture structure, to an average of 2.6 percent in the new setting.

Why do minorities improve so much relative to their peers? It could have to do with how active learning limits students’ sense of isolation and fosters communal feeling among classmates. This perhaps is where a key gap between minority students and their peers exists, as people of color and women often feel isolated. “All students viewed [this kind of] course as more of a community. Feelings of isolation weaken a student’s ability to retain information and thus develop a sense of belonging could provide the support needed to thrive,” Hogan added.
As you can see in the full article, the study is based upon a limited sample, so it is difficult to generalize just on these results.  However, they are consistent with numerous other studies of how conditions in the class room affect different types of students differently, going back to a ground-breaking study by Summers and Wolfe in the 1970s.

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