Students prefer good lectures over the latest technology in class

Léo Charbonneau, University Affairs, Nov 21, 2012
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Here's yet another example of how data misleads. Read the headline: "Students prefer good lectures over the latest technology in class." Pretty conclusive, right? And listen to Vivek Venkatesh, associate dean of academic programs: "Students are old school – they want lectures. They want to listen to a professor who’s engaging, who’s intellectually stimulating and who delivers the content to them." So, who was surveyed? "A dozen universities across the province, to which 15,000 undergraduate students and more than 2,500 instructors responded," repoonse rates of 10 percent and 20 percent. So - of the population of people who are already succeeding in learning via lectures, about 10-20 percent of them signed on to say it's what they prefer. Well, d'uh. You wouldn't expect to see the failures take this survey, right? The people who would like to enrol but can't because they work, or can't afford it, or live too far away? Nada. It's bad research: it's a biased sample, intended to reach a specific conclusion. It shouldn't be highlighted in a publication like University Affairs. But, of course, you just know it would be.

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