Time Well Spent

Maybe it doesn’t matter what techniques we use in the classroom; maybe it’s how much time students spend with the material we want them to learn!

I got this idea after an experiment on the learning efficacy of a collaborative group exercise. Half the students from my and my colleague’s Intro to Political Science classes were split into problem-based learning (PBL) working groups and lecture-discussion groups. The experiment took place during a single class period and included a pre-test/post-test plus a retention test two weeks later.

In contrast to other studies, I found no significant relationship between participating in the PBL exercise and better learning. It’s possible that these results were caused by not debriefing the PBL groups (to keep the experiment to one class period), or because the PBL groups were busy learning skills rather than the content (like how to get along).

It’s possible that the better learning from collaborative projects reported in other studies occurs simply because their participants spend more time with the material than those in more standard settings. Thanks to the two-teacher feature of the quasi-experimental design, I was able to test this ‘time-spent’ hypothesis in two ways.  First, my own classes required all of my students, regardless of treatment group, to write an individual paper that drew on the same material used in the exercise.  This paper was assigned after the post-test, and was due a week before the retention test.  Students who spent the time to write the paper scored significantly higher on the retention-test than those who didn’t.

Second, my students faced the threat of a pop oral quiz each day while my colleague’s didn’t. The data showed that my students were significantly more prepared for class the day of the experiment.  They scored much higher on the pre-test, and held onto that ‘bump’ in the post-test and retention-test.  Again, it seems, students who spent more time doing the reading actually learned and retained more.

Bob Amyot, Hastings College, Hastings, NE – ramyot@hastings.edu

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