Friday, September 6, 2013

Can Introductory Course Students Learn Much From Textbooks?

Some blog followers might be interested in a recent post “Can Introductory Course Students Learn Much From Textbooks?” [Hake (2013)]. The abstract reads:

ABSTRACT: PhysLrne’s Diane Grayson (2013) in her post “Flipped classrooms” pointed to physicist Jim Gerhart as one who utilized what she (and the PhysLrnRs responding to her post) ahistorically regard as the “flipped classroom,” i.e., requiring students to read material to be discussed in class before attending the class.

Sure enough, in his Millikan Award acceptance speech Gerhart (1986) at wrote: “I announce to my classes that I will not deliver any expository lectures on physics, that they will have to read their texts carefully if they are to follow what does take place in class.”

Gerhart reinterates an ancient theme: predating or contemporary with Gerhart’s read-the-textbook-before-class method:

a. Over 2 centuries ago, Samuel Johnson, via James Boswell (1791) at said “People have nowadays . . . got a strange opinion that everything should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do so much good as reading the books from which the lectures are taken. Lectures were once useful; but now, when we can all read, and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary.”

b. A half-century ago, chemist Frank Lambert (1963) in “Editorially Speaking: Effective Teaching of Organic Chemistry” at wrote: “Why do instructors ignore the contribution of Johann Gutenberg to chemistry? Thanks to him, we now have movable type! A few chemists can write books which are readable. Why then do we fail to use these excellent modern texts as the principal bases for our courses?”. . . . .

c. Contemporary with Gerhart, the late chemist Robert Morrison (1986) delivered his classic talk “The Lecture System in Teaching Science” at Therein he said: “I happened to run into Frank Lambert . . . . . He was urging what he called ‘the Gutenberg Method’ of teaching - because, of course, it was based on the fact that the printing press had been invented several hundred years ago. Frank became my guru. I still mentally bow towards the west when this subject comes up.”

BUT WAIT! Gerhart, Lambert, and Morrison seem to have had evidence that most of their students were, in fact, capable of substantial learning from textbooks. That such learning may NOT have been the case has been suggested by POD’s Russ Hunt at; Math-EdCC's “Haim” at; and NAEP’s Perie & Moran (2005) at The latter wrote on p. 15: “only 5 to 7 percent of 17-year-olds demonstrated performance at level 350—the ability to learn from and synthesize specialized reading materials.”

To access the complete 15 kB post please click on

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Links to Articles:
Links to Socratic Dialogue Inducing (SDI) Labs:
Google Scholar:

For William Hogarth’s (1736) skewering of the lecture method see “Scholars at a Lecture”

REFERENCES [URL shortened by and accessed on 06 Sept 2013.]
Hake, R.R. 2013. “Can Introductory Course Students Learn Much From Textbooks?” online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at Post of 06 Sep 2013 12:06:06-0400 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and link to the complete post are being transmitted to various discussion lists..

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