Sitting quietly in a room with a bunch of people?

by Bruce Kasanoff on June 1, 2010

How long are you willing to sit in a room with 25 or 30 people? Imagine that a non-profit you support has a meeting, and it stretches 5 1/2 hours. Is that too long?

It’s common sense that 30 people sitting together won’t accomplish much. If you really want to get something done, sooner or later you have to break into smaller groups, or let people work on their own. Otherwise, you waste enormous amounts of time and don’t get much accomplished.

Unfortunately, this is the way most classrooms operate. Students sit in groups of about 30 while a single teacher attempts to impart knowledge. It’s inefficient, illogical, and outdated.

Let’s do the math. To use rounds numbers, let’s assume a class of 30 students meets five days a week for 60 minutes each. That’s 300 minutes. Imagine that right now, all of that time is spent in a group.

Students get zero personal attention from the teacher.

Now imagine that the teacher allows each student to spend half the “class” time working on individually tailored assignments; during this time, the student does not have to be in the classroom. That means the average number of students in the class at any given moment is now 15.

Suddenly, the teacher is working at the equivalent of an elite private school. He or she can much more easily observe how each student participates in the class discussions, and how prepared they are. It’s a different world.

The technology exists to do this. The main reason it’s not happening is inertia, and a bunch of rules that have little to do with the welfare of students.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ben MacLeay June 1, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Another side benefit of this is how easily students learn from each other. I had trouble finding the link (TED video?) but an Indian scientist left a computer in remote areas and kids learned with no instructor how to use it and started to learn English as well.

The most interesting part however, was that there would be a group of ten kids sitting around the computer and the nine that were not controlling it learned just as much as the one controlling it.

We so often think that hands on means hands, instead of eyes on, brains on, hearts on.

Great article, I really appreciated it.

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