By Chloe Hanson, Brock University
How many of us can relate to the feeling of discouragement when receiving your first assignment back in post-secondary education? According to an article posted in Maclean’s, numerous first year students are emotionally and academically defeated when they receive a grade that is not equivalent to their standards set in high school Maclean’s, 2010). In severe cases, feelings of defeat can lead to the desirability of dropping out of one’s program Maclean’s, 2010). Although retention rates in post-secondary institutions are high and increasing, there are still a small number of students who slip through the cracks. Specifically, dropout rates in first year can be due to crises occurring at home, poor academic performance, financial struggles, and program appeal Maclean’s, 2010). However, a survey conducted for the St. George campus at the University of Toronto demonstrates that “the primary barrier to success for our first-year students is not financial, it’s their own academic performance” (Maclean’s, 2010). According to Persistence in Post-Secondary Education in Canada, academic performance is dependent on persistence (Parkin & Baldwin, 2009). Low levels of persistence, and consequently drop out and failure rates, can be attributed to poor performance in terms of teaching (Parkin & Baldwin, 2009). Therefore, post-secondary institutions need to examine instructional techniques and strategies if a decrease in first-year dropout rates is desired.
Due to a neoliberal and corporatized model of higher education in Canada, the budgets for undergraduate funding are increasingly being cut, resulting in the diminishment of teaching resources (Quinlan & Fogel, 2014). Consequently, lecture based instructional approaches are adopted as the most cost effective, as with an increasing demographic of students entering post-secondary institutions, mass numbers can be accommodated for in a lecture hall (Quinlan & Fogel, 2014). Despite the cost effectiveness of utilizing lecture halls, a study conducted by Freeman et al. (2014) found that undergraduate students in classes with traditional lecture based techniques are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students who are engaged in a more stimulating and interactive learning environment.
In addition to the influence lecture based learning may have on one’s academic performance, there is a lack of skills obtained in lecture based learning environments that correlate with academic success. Lecture based learning turns students into passive beings who are expected to regurgitate the content taught on midterm assignments or examinations (Quinlan & Fogel, 2014). However, according to Shahzadi and Ahmad (2011), one of the skills that lead to academic performance in post-secondary environments is the ability to apply the knowledge learned to relevant concepts. If this is the case, the most effective learning environment would be grounded in problem based learning (PBL) techniques. PBL is an instructional method that involves presenting students with relevant/realistic scenarios or problems that are to be solved using the knowledge and content taught in class (Hmelo-Silver, 2004). However, implementing PBL environments in post-secondary institutions can be a challenge as it often requires collaboration, group work, and intimate settings that simply cannot be accommodated in a massive lecture hall (Hmelo-Silver, 2004). Therefore, although it can be suggested that PBL may have a positive effect on academic performance, post-secondary institutions may be restricted as the most cost-effective instructional technique is lecture based learning.
Despite the disconnect between post-secondary budgets and effective instructional techniques for increased academic performance, there are suggestions to be acknowledged to create a more stimulating and interactive learning environment in post-secondary classrooms. Specifically, offering students the choice between PBL versus lecture based learning could be a potential solution, as students can choose their learning preferences, thus increasing student satisfaction and accountability for academic performance (Opdecam, Everaert, Keer, & Buysschaert, 2014). However, this would require an increase in teaching resources and cost factors. Consequently, this leaves post-secondary institutions at a difficult crossroad – cost effectiveness or student success?
Freeman, S., Eddy, S., McDonough, M., Smith, M., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(23), 8410-8415
Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2004). Problem-based learning: What and how do students learn? Educational Psychology Review, 16(3), 235-266.
Maclean’s (2010). Students who dropout over grades. Maclean’s Canada Press. Retrieved from http://www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/students-who-dropout-over-grades/.
Opdecam, E. E., Everaert, P., Keer, H., & Buysschaert, F. (2014). Preference for team learning and lecture-based learning among first-year undergraduate accounting students. Research in Higher Education, 55(4), 400-432.
Parkin, A., & Baldwin, N. (2009). Persistence in post-secondary education in Canada: The latest research. Millennium Research Note #8. Montreal, PQ: Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. 1-14.
Quinlan, A., & Fogel, C. A. (2014). Transcending convention and space: Strategies for fostering active learning in large post-secondary classes. Higher Education Studies, 4(6), 43-48.
Shahzadi, E., & Ahmad, Z. (2011). Academic performance of university students. International Conference on Recent Advances in Statistics, 255-268.