Does Active Engagement Result in Spoonfeeding?

by Len Cerny

In active engagement, such as using group activities and small whiteboards, students must actively think and confront physics questions and problems. They must reason through various steps and arguments in the process of solving problems and answering questions. Compare this active thinking to a lecture situation in which the professor has carefully assembled all the steps in a logical order and then presents them to the students in an concise, organized fashion. The students can sit and copy their notes without carefully considering why the professor has chosen a particular approach.

Which senario more closely resembles spoonfeeding?

At one extreme, a lecture in which students can use all the professor's thinking and turn it into a template, more closely resembles prechewing the food for students. At the other extreme, if students are left to endlessly flounder on their own with insufficient scaffolding, the students may not be able to make progress and it will resemble someone unfed and unable to feed themselves. However, if there is truly interactive engagement, where students are having to actively do the thinking and sensemaking, but with appropriate instructor guidance, then there is a high potential for successful and lasting learning. The students will probably pass through some stages that are a bit messy, but ultimately will more quickly develop into students that can “feed themselves” compared to students who are spoonfed with lectures.

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