May 17, 2010

Students' study time analyzed

A recent post in the Freakonomics blog came up in conversation at lunch today. The question was whether or not the new schedule our university has adopted (MW and TTh classes only) was leading to students missing more classes on Mondays. (Short answer: we don't know for sure.)

But that question reminded me of the Freakonomics post, which was little more than a link to the original paper. Read the article, it's not hard to digest. If you don't have time to read it all, here's a graph which summarizes much of the results discussed in the paper:

The data couldn't be clearer: students on average are spending less time outside of class studying the material covered in their classes. This is probably one of my largest gripes with interacting with students: how do I convince them that they need to spend more time outside of class with the material so that we can optimize our time with them in class?  I don't know the answer to that question, but it is something I'm always looking for answers to.

What was a bit surprising to me was one of the ideas suggested in the very first comment:
The reduced time inputs between 1961 and 2003 are probably mostly a result of increased productivity through better technologies – i.e. internet research, graphing calculators, word processors etc.
Makes sense, right?  I mean, computers are faster, the internet now puts information on every student's computer almost instantly and no student really even needs to spend the time to walk over to the library for a research paper, right?

All of that is true, but I doubt seriously that students today are just more efficient studiers than students of the past.  No matter what mode I use to present a concept to a class, the students will not really understand it until each one of them has taken the time to engage with the material on their own such that it makes sense in their own head.

And, full disclosure: when I was a student, I probably didn't spend as much time studying outside of class as I should have.  But, the classes I did the most work on were the ones I got the most out of.

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