A new study finds that more testing could help students maintain engagement and retain information.
While much of the focus on testing has centered on the potential downside of high-stakes exams, The study, conducted by researchers from Harvard University, reveals that students were better able to focus, take relevant notes and learn when their videotaped lessons were interrupted by quizzes.
You are sitting in a classroom, listening to a lecture. The subject may be something that you find genuinely interesting. But at a certain point, attention erodes. The information begins to wash over you. Nothing sinks in.
Can science help?
Cognitive psychologists who study how the mind works have begun applying their insights to teaching, searching for ways to structure classes that might stop people’s minds from wandering, improve their memory of course material, and deepen their comprehension.
The question has become more urgent with the explosion of excitement over online courses. The free courses could revolutionize how millions of people learn and reshape the role that the physical college campus plays in education—but only if people can figure out how to do it right. As information and entertainment have become freely available and portable, a growing number of educationally enriching resources and distractions are always at one’s fingertips and always competing against one another.
Feedback on videotaped courses, for example, indicates that on-demand access to lectures can be a resource and a challenge.
“We talk to students here who say, ‘It’s a great tool to have. But at the same time when I’m sitting at home and have the TV on and a laptop on another screen for an hour-long lecture, it will take me two, three, four hours to get through it,’ ” said Karl Szpunar, a post-doctoral researcher in psychology at Harvard University.
One remedy, according to a study led by Szpunar, may be to sprinkle tests and quizzes throughout a lecture.
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