Kelly Hogan, a professor in the Biology department, said she was inspired to change her teaching style after a colleague presented her with data that showed discrepancies in class performance. Semesters later, she published her findings and will continue to experiment with her class structure.
“I saw that we had some really bad failure rates when they were disaggregated by race and ethnicity,” said Hogan, “that we had a real problem with underrepresented minorities.”
Hogan said increasing the retention rates of minority students is important on a national level. President Obama has called for 1 million new STEM graduates in the next ten years, and simply raising retention rates could account for three-quarters of that number, Hogan said.
“We have extremely low retention for our underrepresented minority students,” she said. “We need to start including them. They need to be part of science.”
Hogan said her study doesn’t specifically target any groups of students, but rather aims to improve the performance and retention of all students, which ultimately levels the playing field.
“The achievement gap that was there in my own class years ago, is no longer there for first-generation students,” Hogan said. “And the achievement gap that was much bigger for our black students has now been halved.”
Hogan’s students are expected to learn the content on their own before coming to class through guided readings.
A low-structure course, in contrast, might be laid out with daily lectures, two midterms and a final, Hogan said.
Hogan said other UNC professors have followed her example in implementing moderate- to high-structure teaching methods, though students may know it as a “flipped classroom.”
A flipped classroom requires students to learn content before coming to class, Hogan said. That frees up class time for practice problems or building arguments.
Sophomore Sarah Brooks took Professor Rita Balaban’s introductory economics course her first semester at UNC and said the flipped model incentivized her own learning process.
Brooks said she thought students shy away from flipped classrooms because it seems like more work, but in reality it’s the same amount of work, it’s simply the timing that makes the difference.
“I think it’s a great idea to hold us accountable for that work ahead of time so that we come to class, and we actually use it productively,” she said, “So we can ask directed questions about the things we’re truly struggling with.”
Chemistry professor Michael Crimmins implemented a similar classroom structure in fall 2013 after seeing some of Hogan’s positive results.
Crimmins said he has seen a significant rise in average final exam scores.
The increase in retention rates of underrepresented students also has important implications, he said.
“The economy needs more STEM degrees,” he said. “And the only way we’re going to get more is to get a broader cross section of the population staying in the sciences.”