"Innovative" science classes - new ways of teaching that are interactive, non-boring and therefore in defiance of every method that made America the home of great scientists for 150 years, are all the rage. The goal is to get more women in science, more minorities in science, more everyone in science.

It may not be working, and it may even make things worse, says a study the University of Colorado at Boulder. The researchers looked at interactive teaching methods, which can include online homework systems, help-room sessions, student discussions, and other methods that were not part of traditional science classes in the US.

Unlike a previous Harvard study, which showed significant narrowing in the performance gap between male and female students, the CU Boulder study indicated that the gap stayed roughly the same in both partially and fully interactive classrooms. There were some instances where the gender gap got worse, particularly in the partially interactive classrooms.

On the bright side, both male and female students performed better in the interactive classes than students laboring in traditional lecture-based classes. Overall, however, male students benefited as much or more than females, which doesn't help to narrow gender-based performance gaps.

The physicists at CU Boulder point out that there were a number of differences between their study and the Harvard experiments, including classes with three times as many students, and male to female ratios that were twice as high. In addition, the Harvard students came into the study with higher overall preparation levels in physics, as determined by various standardized tests.

The Boulder researchers don't claim that their results negate the Harvard study, but that it instead highlights the complexity and challenges of reducing gender-based disparities in science education for different populations and circumstances.

Source: APS.