One thing that always annoys me with these conversations is the “I can’t believe we still conduct class similarly to the way we did 100 years ago” complaint, and then the setting up of dichotomies where you are either a progressive humanist revolutionary fighting to free the students from rote memorization and lectures and enlightening them by turning everything into an activity and stressing critical thinking above everything else… or you are a closed minded resident of the Ivory Tower who cares nothing for actual learning and only for scantrons, depositing information, and producing students that are nothing more than passive sitters. As if there is no middle ground.
Don’t get me wrong. Critical thinking skills are important, and honestly one of the reasons I like teaching English. The lessons were the students work through different sides of an issue and realize that there is more than just two sides are some of my favorite. I love seeing the conclusions students come to when they research different sides of an issue and and put the texts in conversations with one another.
However, not all lessons lend themselves to critical thinking skills. Sometimes there are just processes and conventions that need to be learned. Spelling, for example, in English; also some comma rules you just have to know. Outside of English, I’m not sure how much critical thinking is going to go into learning the Krebs cycle, or the foramens of the skull. Knowing this information can help you critically think about case studies, and situations in the future, but these are really foundational knowledge that doesn’t really lend itself well to critical thinking. Does that mean it’s information that’s not worth knowing? No. I’d think cellular respiration is pretty important to most biological sciences. Though, I’m not a biologist so maybe it doesn’t matter at all.
There’s also the constraints of time. I’ve been in classes that try to turn everything into some type of activity, and group project. I was often surprised about how long those activities took and how little information we got through.
BUT wait! Don’t I remember so much more because I interacted with the information? Doesn’t the information seem more relevant to my life because I didn’t read it off a slide and instead discussed it with a classmate?… Not really.
So when we are talking about introductory classes, Bio 101, Chem 101, Anatomy 1, College algebra, etc. There’s a lot of information to get through, and that does not lend itself well to time consuming activities, or interactive technologies. Sometimes reading a textbook, or learning from a slideshow is the most efficient way to present and intake information.