Dr. Melissa Stockwell, Florence Irving Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons and associate professor of population and family health at the Mailman School of Public Health, co-authored research which demonstrates how blended learning techniques enhance both student engagement and performance in science education. The students’ exam grades improved as a result of in-class problem solving, and the video assignments increased attendance and satisfaction, according to Dr. Stockwell and lead author and husband Dr. Brent R. Stockwell, professor, biological sciences and chemistry at Columbia University. Findings are online in the journal Cell.
“In medicine, clinical trials are common, and my expertise is in pragmatic trials in real-life settings,” said Dr. Melissa Stockwell. “It was exciting for me to use what I know from the medical field and apply it in a new area—undergraduate education.”
Students in Dr. Brent Stockwell’s biochemistry class were randomized into four groups, divided by gender and also by how well they were doing in the class up to that point. The students were assigned either a chapter from a textbook or given a video on the same material. When they came to class, half of each group had a traditional lecture where Dr. Brent Stockwell reviewed problems; and the other half got the same material — but they had to solve the problems themselves.
“The results showed that there was a big difference in performance on subsequent exams: the group assigned to in class problem-solving did much better, indicating it’s the actual process of working through the problems that allows the students to internalize the knowledge and draw on it later. If you sat in the lecture, then the information was just passing you by,” said Dr. Brent Stockwell.
The researchers also asked the students how satisfied they were with the class, and found that while they found both versions equally satisfying, students learned better when they were in the class where they had to do the problem-solving themselves. The researchers also believe the methodology could apply broadly to all kinds of students and subjects.
“There’s something about learning through problem-solving that was captured in this study,” noted Dr. Melissa Stockwell. “Interactive class sessions where you’re taking advantage of the proximity of your professor and peers in real time were also important. The fact that questions could be answered by the professor and by fellow students really helps learning and teaches college students that they should be looking toward their peers to learn from each other, in college and long after they graduate.”