Interactive classes don't necessarily solve the performance imbalance between the genders in physics classes, according to a new study that stands in stark contrast to previous physics education research. In fact, while students as a rule benefit from interactive classrooms, the teaching technique may even increase the imbalance in some cases.
The conclusion comes from research at the University of Colorado at Boulder where physics professors attempted to duplicate an earlier Harvard study. The researchers in both studies looked at interactive teaching methods, which can include online homework systems, help-room sessions, student discussions, and other methods that have not typically been part of science classes in the US.
Unlike the Harvard study, which showed significant narrowing in the performance gap between male and female students, the CU Boulder study indicated that the gap stayed roughly the same in both partially and fully interactive classrooms. There were some instances where the gender gap got worse, particularly in the partially interactive classrooms.
On the bright side, both male and female students performed better in the interactive classes than students laboring in traditional lecture-based classes. Overall, however, male students benefited as much or more than females, which doesn't help to narrow gender-based performance gaps.
The physicists at CU Boulder point out that there were a number of differences between their study and the Harvard experiments, including classes with three times as many students, and male to female ratios that were twice as high. In addition, the Harvard students came into the study with higher overall preparation levels in physics, as determined by various standardized tests.
The Boulder researchers don't claim that their results negate the Harvard study, but that it instead highlights the complexity and challenges of reducing gender-based disparities in science education for different populations and circumstances.
Published in Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, June 2007
Materials provided by American Physical Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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