Classes should be research-based

By Jack Baker

A couple weeks ago, I took a test in my Psychopathology class. I got an A on it, but if I had to take it again, I might fail.

Not that much time has passed, but I’ve already forgotten most, if not all, of the information that was on the test.

This is a big problem, but it is not the first time this has happened to me and I’m not the only student that this happens to. This forgetting of course material is simply a result of the structure of our educational system.

The majority of classes at NIU require students to learn a lot of information and then dump it out on big tests.

However, according to psychology professor Joseph Magliano, this is not an effective way of having students actually learn new material.

“The very situation we’ve created runs counter to research on learning and memory,” Magliano said. “We know a lot about learning situations that lead to shallow knowledge and fleeting memory, but that’s what we do again and again.”

The teaching and assessment structure of classes leads to fleeting memories where students simply forget most of the information after taking the test, like how I can’t remember most of what was on my psychopathology test from two weeks ago.

This is a big problem for education, but there are ways to fix it. An increase in research and using the research that is already available would help, said Magliano.

The What Works Clearinghouse, from the Institute of Educational Sciences, combines research from various disciplines and develops programs which provide ways for educators to promote better learning, said Magliano. Instructors should utilize this resource to find new ways to improve their courses.

Another way to fix the problem would be an increase in engagement programs.

Engagement programs are an alternative to the traditional course structure that provide better learning opportunities for students.

Research has shown that when people engage in deeper levels of processing, like applying thinking critically about concepts and applying them to real-world scenarios, stronger memories are formed, Magliano said. Engaged learning helps students learn better because it forces them to do that.

NIU already provides a number of engaged learning opportunities through the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning. Research Rookies, Undergraduate Special Opportunities in Artistry and Research and the Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day are all great opportunities; however, they’re not enough.

I presented a poster from an independent research project in last year’s Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day and it was a good experience. I learned a great deal throughout the semester while I ran a psychology experiment, but that semester I also took four regular classes that I don’t really remember anything from.

This is where NIU needs to improve. All of the engaged learning opportunities are great, but NIU should make a stronger effort to incorporate those engaged learning ideas into those other classes.

That way, maybe we’ll actually be able to remember some of the things we’re supposed to have learned.