Grades improve when students lead learning

Academics at Avans University in the Netherlands revamp seminars to promote student engagement

September 19, 2013

Handing control of the seminar room to students can improve both attendance and results, a pilot study has found.

With only about 50 per cent of students showing up to lessons in finance at Avans University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, academics decided to revamp learning methods to promote student engagement.

Two groups of students were invited to lead the teaching themselves, with the lecturer acting only in a supervisory role, said Jonathan van Melle, a lecturer at Avans School of International Studies.

“Attendance rates in finance were relatively low and so were the marks,” said Mr van Melle at a session at the European Association for International Education’s annual conference, which took place on 10-13 September in Istanbul.

“Both classes [of students] had to draw up their own code of conduct to help more students to pass the exam at the first attempt,” he explained.

“Students themselves decided that…no social media or technological devices would be allowed in class because it would disrupt the flow of information.”

Students decided to structure their learning around a quiz show format taken from the US programme Jeopardy!. “Everyone who got a question right had to explain to the class how they did it,” said Mr van Melle.

With students taking over the classroom, attendance rates soared from 55 per cent to 96 per cent, the study found.

Eighty-six per cent of students passed the finance exam at the first attempt compared with 79 per cent of those who remained in teacher-led classes.

“Teachers laid the groundwork by suggesting what topics and subjects should be covered, but did not play a central role,” said Mr van Melle.

“Whenever there was a question that students could not answer, the teacher would assist.”

With the experiment’s success and strong demand from other students to enter the class, the university was considering expanding the scheme, he said.

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