On Facebook and Twitter lately, my friends have been sharing their concerns about “deniers.” Deniers are people who despite overwhelming evidence opposing their opinion refuse to change their views. Most commonly, the term is used to describe climate change deniers. The scientific community has presented tons of evidence in support of global climate change. Despite this evidence, there are still some people who choose to ignore or discredit the available evidence and continue believing that human beings have little impact on the environment.
While the term “climate change denier” is in our common vernacular these days, the term “denier” has been used to describe others as well. Following World War II, some people doubted that the Holocaust happened and that Germany had interned and killed millions of Jews. The movie Denial details a real legal battle that occurred in England between Deborah Lipstadt, a historian, and David Irving, a notorious Holocaust denier. Despite evidence that showed that mass genocide had occurred during World War II in Germany, Irving continued to hold steadfast publicly. Examining Irving’s position, Lipstadt writes:
“(Irving) demands “absolute documentary proof” when it comes to proving the Germans guilty, but he relies on highly circumstantial evidence to condemn the Allies. This is an accurate description not only of Irving’s tactics, but of those of deniers in general.”
I don’t want to go too far down the Holocaust or climate change rabbit holes here but I think the term “denier” deserves a little attention educationally. In a discussion with a colleague last week, we lamented the resistance of some faculty to adopt active learning strategies. The educational evidence is overwhelming (which I’ve shared that evidence on this blog over the years). Despite this evidence, some educators choose to employ lecture-based strategies. These “active learning deniers” are also pretty willing to share their voices in opposition to student-centered strategies. Take this Chronicle article titled “Active Learning Is Found to Foster Higher Pass Rates in STEM Courses.” In the comments section, one instructor wrote:
“For all we know the pass rates are higher but the knowledge communicated, level of intellectual effort, and retention of knowledge are lower. So-called “success” by one meta-analysis outcome alone is poor measurement of anything.”
The commenter isn’t alone in denying active learning evidence, however. Take the following Guardian article titled In Praise of the University Lecture. The author, Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at the University of Kent, dismisses outright “all the buzzwords – innovative teaching, active learning, student engagement” and stands beside the practices of lecturing. The lecture, Furedi writes, is:
“the fundamental ritual of academic life. It is the one experience that has the most potential of forging a community of learners. It creates a common intellectual experience for students and allows otherwise solitary undergraduates to become part of a continuous conversation.”
In another article, Furedi dismisses active learning evidence and instructors who choose to use the pedagogical approach to support student learning.
“One of the reasons why people use active learning is because they’re worried about losing students, boring students. If you’re simply interested in keeping bums in seats, it rewards people for time served. Active learning may get good results in terms of retention, but it may be an illusory outcome.”
While it’s hard to take Holocaust and climate change deniers seriously, active learning deniers may find greater support among their colleagues. Some still see teaching and learning as an individual craft that is subject to our own experiences and beliefs. Teaching this way, however, denies the mounting body of evidence to the contrary.