We all know the teacher who insists, “but my field is content-rich. I need to cover all of this, so that students are ready for next year.” This attitude is grounded in a sincere interest that students “know” what they should know. It also results in the teacher adopting the “fill their brains” with information approach to teaching.
What is becoming clear, however, is that this is no longer a tenable approach to teaching. My conclusion is based on two observations.
First, content-rich fields are dynamic and rapidly changing. With information being generated as fast as it is, faculty will find it exceedingly difficult to identify the new content that is relevant for their students. These decisions are made more difficult as this will require removing content from that is currently taught (and that the faculty member probably is deeply invested in maintaining.) In those fields in which information is being generated so quickly, it seems faculty have a responsibility (which is equal to their responsibility to teach content) to ensure students can access, evaluate, and integrate new information when the class ends. These skills for managing new information cannot be developed in classrooms where the students are told what information to learn; they must develop and refine those skills by using them.
Second, there is growing evidence that active learners (those who are actively engaged with thinking about the content) have deeper understanding of the content, and perform better on traditional assessments. Further, those students show greater ability to apply what they have learned to new and unfamiliar problems.
If we are to be successful in ensuring students are competent and confident in the information, we want them to master, then we need to reassess our instructional methods. Focusing on telling them the information they need to know and testing them to be sure they have remembered it is one sure way they will leave your classroom with little capacity to use that information.