The Lecture Strikes Back


Lecturing as a teaching style is not particularly trendy these days, but perhaps it is particularly well-suited for the humanities. Writing in the New York Times, history professor Molly Worthen (UNC) makes the case:

In the humanities, there are sound reasons for sticking with the traditional model of the large lecture course combined with small weekly discussion sections. Lectures are essential for teaching the humanities’ most basic skills: comprehension and reasoning, skills whose value extends beyond the classroom to the essential demands of working life and citizenship…

In the humanities, a good lecture class… keeps students’ minds in energetic and simultaneous action. And it teaches a rare skill in our smartphone-app-addled culture: the art of attention, the crucial first step in the “critical thinking” that educational theorists prize…

Absorbing a long, complex argument is hard work, requiring students to synthesize, organize and react as they listen. In our time, when any reading assignment longer than a Facebook post seems ponderous, students have little experience doing this. Some research suggests that minority and low-income students struggle even more. But if we abandon the lecture format because students may find it difficult, we do them a disservice. Moreover, we capitulate to the worst features of the customer-service mentality that has seeped into the university from the business world. The solution, instead, is to teach those students how to gain all a great lecture course has to give them.

She also addresses some of the ways in which the experience of being a student in a lecture course is underappreciated:

Listening continuously and taking notes for an hour is an unusual cognitive experience for most young people. Professors should embrace — and even advertise — lecture courses as an exercise in mindfulness and attention building, a mental workout that counteracts the junk food of nonstop social media… 

This is not a “passive” learning experience, and it cannot be replicated by asking students to watch videotaped lectures online: the temptations of the Internet, the safeguard of the rewind button and the comforts of the dorm-room sofa are deadly to the attention span.

I am somewhat moved by her argument, but I want to be on guard against romanticizing the past.

Yes, it seems like most students nowadays have less tolerance for sitting through a lecture attentively than we did as students, but one explanation for that observation is that most students are not like the students who go on to be professors, i.e., us.

Yes, there is some evidence that “attention span” has declined, but it is unclear that any study that concludes that humans now (as of 2015) have a shorter “attention span” than goldfish is talking about anything relevant to the question of how students should be taught.

And further, as far as I know, we don’t know much about the effectiveness of lecture courses in improving attention, or developing “mindfulness,” or synthesizing information, or following and analyzing arguments.

I’d be interested in hearing from philosophers who do still lecture. Does it seem like it works well? How do you prepare? Are there tricks you use to keep students’ attention? How are your student evaluations?

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Colin Heydt
Colin Heydt
5 years ago

Kudos to Worthen for being so diligent in preparing her lectures. I’m sure they’re good. That said, I’m skeptical of her argument. She brushes aside the “active learning craze” and the work of teachers like Mazur. But Mazur and others have ample evidence showing that their students _understood physics less well_ when they took lecture classes than when they took classes in which students were much more actively involved (e.g. having to prove to other students why their answers were correct). I really doubt that there is something special about the humanities that makes lecturing pedagogically better than the alternatives. Does Worthen have anything beyond mere speculation to show that lectures work well? Even if I have some sympathy with her finger-wagging about the “smartphone-app-addled-culture,” that doesn’t mean that offering 50 or 75 minute lectures is the solution. If these students have such short attention spans, it would seem that hoping a student would learn critical thinking and active listening through a 50 minute lecture would be akin to starting a novice piano player on Ravel.

Among the courses I teach are large introductory courses of 150 and above. These are in lecture halls with stages. For years, I lectured up on those stages. Students are happy with reasonably funny and entertaining lectures. But they simply don’t learn as much as when you do things like walk through the aisles and regularly ‘cold call,’ constantly ask them to recall material, etc (by the way, this is also true for graduate students–I think cold calling is far too infrequently done in graduate seminars).Report

A philosophy professor
A philosophy professor
5 years ago

I’m confused: you’re looking to hear from “philosophers who do still lecture”? As if that’s some idiosyncratic minority? I suppose I don’t know what we’re talking when we’re talking about “lecturing”. Do you just mean “stand and recite for x minutes, then leave”? If that’s the case, then no, I suppose I don’t “lecture”. But in my large classes at least I do talk for a bit, then ask questions, get a discussion going, then talk some more, and repeat. Isn’t that generally what “giving a lecture” is in philosophy?Report

Arthur Ward
5 years ago

I think almost everyone who thinks as Worthen does seems to reason like this: “Hey, I loved listening to lectures as a student, and furthermore, a handful of my most enthusiastic students also seem to enjoy my lectures!” And of course lecturing probably IS an effective way for a small percentage of students to learn, and most of us that got advanced degrees in humanities disciplines are among these few. But to generalize from one person’s anecdotal experience of learning and apply it to all students (smugly! without any evidence it’s working!) is cringe-worthy.

Worthen is making a transparently empirical claim (lecturing is effective) without a shred of empirical evidence! And naturally she shrugs off active learning with equal ignorance of the body of research supporting it. This is maddening, and it gives humanities professors a bad name. Teaching methodology and effectiveness are not occult, but open to empirical investigation! She might even be right about some of the claims in here – I think I agree that (some) (short) lectures are very valuable in the humanities, but the sort of evidence one needs to support this claim cannot be collected in an armchair or even by collecting classroom anecdotes of your own intuition of how things are working. It’s really maddening, and reinforces a host of bad habits and vices that humanities professors might fall into when trying to make themselves relevant.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  Arthur Ward
5 years ago

Perhaps one thing to do would be to develop a set of empirical criteria for measuring “Effectiveness” in philosophy. This is going to be harder than it might first appear, and I think that the pro-lecture side is currently justified in thinking that the STEM-related studies are of dubious relevance.

Here’s one line of thought, for example: a good philosophy class imparts some of the passion for Big Ideas that we in the discipline share. It is entirely unclear to me that the methods championed by the active learning crowd (“Group work, clickers, online discussion”) are going to be at all “effective” in this respect. So while I agree that it’s evidence we need, it is not responsible to assume that the active-learning studies provide us with any of the relevant evidence.Report

Arthur Ward
Reply to  Joe
5 years ago

I don’t want to be too combative or contrary, and I really don’t want to hold up my own teaching as any model of perfect active-learning. I lecture sometimes too: probably at least one 15 minute lecture each class period (and sometimes longer, or more than one mini-lecture with a small-group activity sandwiched in between). This probably isn’t the place to drop a whole bunch of studies either, (although they exist if there’s curiosity).

But I think it’s common ground that personal credulity or incredulity is a poor measure of empirical claims. Most of us have a whole department in our university dedicated to studying and testing these claims! For my part, my teaching was shaken up by my wife who was a high school teacher and now works in a university education department. She was appalled at how philosophy is often taught at the university level, and has given me countless ideas (based on peer-reviewed methodology) about how to improve my teaching. I would really encourage those philosophers who base their pedagogy either on their own personal intuitions about teaching, or alternatively base their teaching expertise on their apprenticeship under another philosopher also untrained as a teacher, to reach out to their department of education and seek a partnership. Ask for the empirical data on this or that teaching strategy, and especially ask for some practical alternatives to lecturing, because they exist and many of them are wonderful.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  Arthur Ward
5 years ago

I am generally 100% in favor of being appropriately responsive to empirical data… but the data I find is almost exclusively focused on STEM fields. Any pointers to studies based on education in the humanities would be appreciated! But then there’s a deeper issue raised by your comment. It’s this: suppose (for the sake of argument) one is a genuinely captivating, interesting lecturer who both imparts a great deal of information to one’s students and inspires them to do more philosophy. One knows this because one’s students do very well and report high levels of satisfaction with your courses. Then one discovers that the data shows that lecturing, *in general* is doesn’t get the facts across and doesn’t inspire students. What follows?

For a small but significant chunk of people like this, it will *not* follow that their methods are inferior to any alternatives. In fact, given (1) the unbelievably poor lecturing one finds amongst professors in general, and (2) the near-total absence of teaching from the professional development of graduate students, the following line of thought seems perfectly reasonable: yeah, most professors *shouldn’t* be lecturing. They’re terrible at it, because our field is generally terrible at promoting good teachers. But should *good* lecturers retool their teaching, especially when they have good evidence that they are effective? Could the data settle this question?

As always, there is a gulf between statistical generalizations and personal practice, and I’m wary of thinking that this debate can be settled purely by reference to a set of studies. Nor should we denigrate each person’s intimate awareness of their own situation by calling it “personal intuitions”, as though this first-hand knowledge were somehow irrelevant to the question.Report

Arthur Ward
Reply to  Joe
5 years ago

Joe, I probably shouldn’t have been so snarky about personal intuitions. But I think we have a genuine disagreement about how far they should be trusted here. We miss a lot when we intuit about the empirical, especially in this regard. Think of how many poor teachers you know that don’t see how poor they are. Your example of the professor who lectures well seems to have some (albeit limited) empirical data, so that’s good. But I would still think that she is even better off trying to gather more data. I see a parallel here with evidence-based medicine and the push for asking Doctors to step out of their own sense of authoritative practice and verify their methods against wider studies. Having student evaluations as feedback helps a bit, but they are not great metrics of teaching quality or learning gains since they incentivize entertaining and easy teaching. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think personal experience and student evaluations are worthless (especially not my own, amirite?), but they are deeply flawed. Peer observation by another professor is a big step up, but then the methodology matters a lot, and doing an effective observation takes training.

I admit, it’s a problem that there may be more university-level educational research done in STEM fields. There is good stuff for the humanities (and unlike the commentator below, I think research on high school learners is highly applicable to college learners) and if I have more time in between grading exams I’ll ask my wife to point me to some stuff that I can cite here.Report

guy
guy
Reply to  Arthur Ward
5 years ago

i would certainly appreciate being pointed to sources that cover the pedagogical methodologies you allude to.Report

Arthur Ward
Reply to  guy
5 years ago

With the caveat that I’m less of an expert and more of an enthusiast and experimentalist, I’ll share my own notes of active learning techniques that I have begun to use more in the last three years. When I have more time I could perhaps do more hunting for empirical study citations

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VcA0GP-_TsEvvufmrlSgR9DXyS2gwgILQnjTy7SxrSk/edit?usp=sharingReport

Roman
Roman
5 years ago

I think it is important to see what Worthen is talking about and, following “A philosophy professor” above, asking if that is what we typically do in teaching philosophy. Here’s a point Worthen makes that somehow ends up disappearing in her account: “In the humanities, there are sound reasons for sticking with the traditional model of the large lecture course combined with small weekly discussion sections.” I take it that what she is advocating, then, is not what many of us do–some lecturing, followed by discussion–but rather straight lecturing for long periods of time, alternating with separate meetings (with grad TAs) to discuss the material. Her editorial should not, then, be taken as a defense of straight lecturing, even if she presents it that way. Unlike many of my students, I was highly motivated, well prepared, and had a good attention span in college (much better than I do now). I loved most of my lecture courses. But even in many of those, it was often the discussion sessions where the material really sunk in, even if that’s not the way I’ve typically remembered it. Some of my lecturers, furthermore, were brilliant lecture writers, but incapable of keeping students awake; others would forget that their audience didn’t have most of the background they were assuming. The discussion sections were crucial in fixing these defects.

Now, assuming that many readers here are not teaching huge lecture classes but, like me, teaching smaller sections without grad student assistants, what lessons should we draw from Worthen’s article? Certainly not that the best way to teach is to simply talk at students for an hour. We, after all, have to provide the discussion sessions as well as the lectures. Should we, then, spend two of our three weekly hours talking and one hour on discussion? I’ve found that, while I would have appreciated that more in college, with my students it is a waste of time. They cannot listen to an hour-long lecture and get what I want them to get out of it; discussions aren’t spent on plugging holes in their understanding of the lectures, but on going over their content in its entirety.

And that’s what it comes down to, to a large extent: quite apart from the question of whether lecturing is an ideal style of teaching, a much better question for nonideal theory is whether you have students who really learn from listening to you lecture. Mine, typically, do not.Report

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
5 years ago

Having written what is below, I feel a bit like I am tooting my own horn, something I am not too comfortable with. I suppose over the years I have gotten pretty good at lecturing, at least within the comfortable environment of the University of Chicago. But I do think it is possible to do it well, and when it is done well it has its value. So I will put this up in response to Justin’s request. I will first note that I am aware of empirical studies of student learning and different approaches to facilitating that. I run our departmental pedagogy program, have attended numerous events run by our Center for Teaching, and have several high school and elementary school teachers in my immediate family, who are happy to share with me their pedagogical knowledge and insights — as well as a brother and a father who teach philosophy…. I will welcome responses to what I say, including constructively critical ones, but I don’t intend to respond to comments. So here goes.

I actually do what Justin describes in some of my larger undergraduate classes — talk straight through for most of an 80 minute session, with relatively short intervals for questions and discussion (I am always open to being interrupted by a question, however, and will decide on the spot whether to open that up for discussion or save it for later). And many of my students — not just a few — appreciate my lectures, at least if their evaluations mean anything at all. Some find them boring, I freely admit (, but others (I would say the majority) say things like this: the lectures held my interest and made me want to go back to the texts and reread them.

(I also run classes in which I barely talk at all — when the class size is small enough. But I do not try to get discussion going on a regular basis in a class of 50 or more students. I don’t find that I am good at making that work.)

What I don’t do is prepare my lectures meticulously in advance, in terms of exactly what I am going to say — and I don’t read my lectures at all. My lectures are always off the cuff, but based on a very careful re-reading of the assigned texts, usually just beforehand so it is all fresh in my mind, and a tiny outline of the things I want to cover. I don’t see a lot of students nodding off or looking at their phones. They are taking notes on what I am saying and that is, as Worthen points out, a form of active learning. Then again we may have pretty unusual students at Chicago and I am sure I would modify things in another learning environment and with different students.

My lecture classes always have smaller sections run by course assistants, which meet once a week — I always visit a few of these to make sure they are functioning as I intend them to, and discuss pedagogical techniques and ideas with the course assistants. I view the lectures as a place in which the students are presented with a synthesis of material they have read, along with some questions and ideas that might challenge them to move beyond their initial understanding of that material; in the sections they get to talk about the material under the guidance of their course assistant, and engage in forms of active learning other than note-taking. I insist that the sections not be run as additional lectures. All of this seems to work well for my students. Others may disagree.Report

David McNaughton
5 years ago

I still lecture, broken with occasional discussion. Not really possible to do anything else in a class of 90. But, in any case, I think lectures can be memorable because of the style and personality of the lecturer. Anyway, the students seem pretty happy. I usually have feedback of 80-90% Excellent, and virtually always 100% in the Excellent or Good categories.Report

Felicity Haynes
5 years ago

I have retired from academia where we had 45 minute philosophy lectures to large classes, on preset material which required a lesson objective and promises that the lecture content would be examined at the end of semester. Often the lecture content would be prescribed three years in advance. One of my colleagues in History read his lectures without interruption, and I was aghast that they were the same year after year. I would find this incredibly dull either as a lecturing procedure or as a passive student. However I admit he had style and polish. I would prepare the lecture content, with subheadings, references, and room for response on the internet, and require students to read it in advance of the scheduled lecture. Then at the appointed hour speak very briefly to the content, and invite questions, often related to current events in the real world. I think philosophy has to attend to the current context, either for conceptual clarification or the logic of political argument, so the discussion and questions related to events around us. Normally this would have taken place in smaller tutorial discussion, but alas, financial contingencies have made these a thing of the past. Now that I have retired I am allowed the luxury of regular seminars with voluntary groups of up to 25, called thinkfests, which use Dewey’s community of inquiry method promoted by Matthew Lipman. Recommended as a learning process for students and “lecturer” alike for deep exchange of differing values.Report

Bennett McNulty
Bennett McNulty
5 years ago

While reading Worthen’s article and some of the subsequent comments here, three questions kept coming to mind. What outcomes do we mean to achieve in our classrooms? What pedagogical methods are best suited for the achievement of these outcomes? And, finally, how do we determine which method is best suited? If one’s chief outcome is the increasing of students’ endurance for long, complex arguments, perhaps lecturing at them is an effective strategy. However this certainly raises the third question: how do you determine whether this is the best practice? Among the methods of determination that have been trotted out are subjective contemplation about pedagogical style, observations of student comportment during class, and students evaluations. But these standards are clearly not reliable sources, especially for gaining information about students’ achievement of the aforementioned outcome of improving their abilities to follow arguments.

Personally, I try to promote my students’ abilities to explain clearly abstract ideas, to write precisely and methodically, and to argue respectfully, rationally, and persuasively. I think that these are among the most important skills that philosophy can impart to students, no matter their background or future plans. To improve such skills, students have to be actively _practicing them_ and receiving feedback and guidance on their practice. So, for the achievement of my classes’ outcomes, active learning–including, for example, discussion, reading, writing, role-playing, diagramming, and debate activities–is a key component. The educational research that I’ve examined–which I trust more than my subjective contemplation, observations of students, or evaluations–support the claim that this is an effective pedagogical technique for such outcomes.

I hence heartily concur with Arthur Ward’s sentiment: there is (or can be!) empirical evidence about effectiveness of teaching strategies. But this is not the only issue. We also have to be reflective about the outcomes we mean to achieve before it even makes sense to ask questions of effectiveness.Report

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

I’m a lifelong lecturer/discussant type. And I agree with Ward that empirical evidence about instructional effectiveness is important, especially if it transcends student surveys of instruction. Once I quipped to the Chancellor of my institution that the only legitimate student survey for philosophy is truly Socratic: we should be ultimately judged by our students’ obituaries. Well that’s one measure anyway, even if it can’t effectively work as input for assessing merit pay. However, we ought pay attention to well-designed SSIs–and we ought have peer evaluations of our instruction as further empirical data as a check on the difference between mere popularity versus good pedagogy. (And grade distributions have a place there as well.)

But I’m with Kremer as well. I’ve had colleagues who read lectures and can be engaging and even brilliant–but I can count them on my left hand (where I have half a thumb from a motorcycle mishap). Know your stuff before you take one step over the classroom door threshold–know it inside and out, because you have incessantly dialogued it with yourself in your own head, and have an outline of what needs to be discussed–written if need be but preferably stuffed in your head from your internal dialogue–and then talk about it in class as if you were among good friends and colleagues in the Symposium. Look students in the eye, and mean it, because it means something to you (or it had better unless you’re a pretender). Constantly pause on significant points, and ask them to fill in the lacunae–and wait for at least 5 times the 2.8 seconds that someone determined is the average time profs wait before answering their own questions. (Probably apocryphal.) But more than anything–anything–keep yourself interested in what you’re saying, because if you’re not interested, probably no one else will be either.

The lecture is far from being irrelevant. But unless we in the discipline infuse it with interest and genuine love of inquiry, our students will just become victims of an educational zombie apocalypse–our talking dead.Report

LadyPhilosopher
LadyPhilosopher
5 years ago

What empirical research is available on this topic? Personally, I have seen a variety of engaging teaching methods, including lectures where the students sit enraptured. I really think it depends on “how” you do this – whether lecturing or active learning. It probably also depends on the instructor’s personality, size of class, etc.

Also, of the empirical research that is available, I would be interested in seeing which studies are longterm. It seems to me that very often students (and myself) only appreciate a course a few years after, when they understand its relevance and connections to other courses, and are able to reflect upon their experience.Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

A sincere, and admittedly broad question–perhaps too broad to raise in a blog comment. How generally accepted in the scientific community are educational studies and its theoretical methods? I don’t say this to casually dismiss an entire discipline, but simply because we all know that sciences come in varying degrees of “hardness,” of precision and reliability, and I wonder if we should, as many who appeal to such studies seem to assume, treat them with the same way we treat, say, a study in physics.

Honestly, in my experience, when people appeal to such studies, it often comes off as similar to the way pop science by journalists comes off: drawing strong, precise conclusions from nuanced, contested data. That’s just my honest impression, which doesn’t mean it’s true. And the people who appeal to such studies are the sort that inspire my scientific confidence: they tend to be in the humanities, fond of trendy jargon, and generally poor in logical argumentation. Again, just my experience, which tells us nothing definite about the field, but it’s the reason I wonder.

At their worst, the soft sciences can border on the pseudo-scientific, drawing on scientific methods and data to support conclusions already assumed in advanced and never directly tested–economics, for example is at least arguably guilty of this, and I really don’t feel confident that, for example, the attempts at bringing scientific methods into, say, political science, are successful.

So, I guess the question is: is there a literature about the reliability and methodology of pedagogical science? Are there any deep debates about the discipline as such? What is the general scientific status of the field?Report

Dave Baker
Dave Baker
Reply to  Anon
5 years ago

This is a very good question that I would also like to see addressed. Relatedly, I would be cautious about generalizing results from studies of e.g. high school students to predict how college students learn. Those are pretty different student bodies both in terms of how they’re selected and also the stage of mental development they’re at.

(I should say that I enjoy teaching in the active learning model a bit more than I like lecturing, so this isn’t coming from a place of skepticism about that specific method.)Report

Arthur Ward
Reply to  Richard Zach
5 years ago

Richard, thanks – I enjoyed reading that quite a bitReport

Adam Rigoni
Adam Rigoni
5 years ago

Well, I’m one of those outdated types who still lectures. When you’re the sole instructor for a 103 student class, I don’t think any other approach would work. I also have to lecture for online instruction, again, because there aren’t many alternatives (it’s also literally a requirement for online instruction where I teach). By reviews for these courses have been pretty positive. For me, it takes a lot more prep for lectures than discussion style classes, but I do enjoy giving lectures, being up on stage and all that. I never ever type out a lecture, because I think it will sound way too stuffy. I have an outline of maybe a page (double-spaced) of bullet-points and sub-points for an hour lecture. I likely won’t cover all of them, but it’s good have extra available if you run short, which can happen if you haven’t previously given this lecture. I always encourage students to raise their hand to ask questions during the lecture and oftentimes I will ask questions of the audience.

I don’t know of many tricks. For a big lecture, you just have to bring it. Be energetic. Be loud. Be louder. Nothing is worse than whispering lecturer and putting the whisper through microphone doesn’t much improve matters. Have some jokes or references to music, movies, something. Don’t know current music? Reference an old music and make a self deprecating joke about your lack of cool. On occasion, opt for outlandish examples. Few will remember a Sophie’s Choice hypothetical, but everyone remembers exploding the big guy blocking the cave, especially if you supply details– “You’re going to explode him, POW!, body-parts everywhere… you really think that’s what you should do? What if his mom is on the other side of the cave, watching?” Have fun, or at least fake it. Use the board or powerpoint or whatever to outline the structure of the lecture/main points, but don’t bomb the students with lots of writing. Many will nod off. Worse, you’ll lose some of the really engaged students because some of them will focus on copying even last word on the slide/board. Show up early if possible and talk to some of the students who get there early. They’ll feel more comfortable asking questions in lecture if they feel comfortable talking to you. Don’t worry about being repetitive. If something is important, say it a couple of times. Be energetic. Be loud. Be louder.Report

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
5 years ago

I thought the following was a refreshing take on this issue — written by someone who is on the “other side” from Worthen, but really trying to see both sides and to get both sides to see each other’s point of view and advance the debate:http://www.elizabethbarre.com/blog/thepointofateacherReport

RP Forsberg
RP Forsberg
5 years ago

I have mixed feelings on this topic. For the first 20 years of my career the lecture was the accepted standard and I received kudos and compliments for my lively, well structured and serious lectures. Students did take notes and most seemed comfortable with the lecture format. The last 15 years of my career were strikingly different. Students had stopped taking notes, apart from the few. Lack of attention was apparent and made so by sighs and head/eye rolling, though, again, there were students who were quite complimentary and actually apologized for their peers who were not appreciative. But, it was clear that group discussions, role-playing case studies, Socratic dialogue and more active methods were preferred. Thus, while I was considered a great lecturer, I learned to use methods that took the students’ changes into account. result? I always lectured about 1/3 of the time – presenting background material and what they’d need to think through issues on their own; 1/3 of the time students worked in groups to analyze issues or cases using what I delivered in lectures to applications; and 1/3 was open discussion, debates (formal) and student presentations. One adapts. But I believe there is a place for all these methods and lecture is a very important part of it all.

But the students now seem to have picked up on the anti-lecture bias of education schools and are willing to rebel and protest against it. I chalk this up to jargon based models presented in the press and from schools of education. The students do pick up the jargon and use it as an excuse: “I am a visual learner and you only lecture…”, “I am an oral learner and you use too many visually-based materials…”. Learning style jargon gets through to students and is used as a defense against working hard. Is it easier for one teacher to adapt to 25 learning styles or 25 students to adapt to one teaching style??Report

Daniel Nagase
Daniel Nagase
Reply to  RP Forsberg
5 years ago

Speaking as a student, I don’t really like the lecture style. That’s not because I’ve “picked up the jargon and used it as an excuse”, but rather because I never quite got the point of it. I did like lectures when I started university, but things began to change around my second or third year, when one of the professors began to make available the text he used for his lectures (he usually read his lectures). I’d usually sit in a café with other students debating those texts, and then I suddenly realized that this was *much more* productive than just listening to the guy. Rather than just sit there taking notes, which were rather useless given that we had access to the text of the lecture, I could read, re-read, and discuss the finer interpretation points of the text. But then, what was the point of actually sitting through the lecture itself? I continued to go more or less out of habit, but it always seemed to me much better to just get the text later and debate it with my colleagues.

This is similar to what the author of the text linked by prof. Kremer above called the “Good Will Hunting problem”; namely, why should I have to sit through a lecture when there are some many good books out there waiting to be read? I’d say 90% of my professors adopted the lecture style, and to be honest I don’t feel I learned much from the lectures themselves, and it always seemed like I’d have learned more if I had spent those four hours (my classes are one week, four hours long sessions) at the library, reading either the author assigned or some secondary literature about it. Most things I learned, I learned either from my interaction with my colleagues (discussion groups, etc.) or else from conversations with the professors at office hours, specially about the final (and only) assignments, the only time I really got some feedback regarding my work.Report

RP Forsberg
RP Forsberg
5 years ago

One thing that’s kind of funny on lecture vs other styles. At my school we had many conferences, guest speakers and workshops on teaching. 90% of the time the presenters were talking about non-lectures being best: portfolios, groups, learning communities, service learning, and so forth. However, 90% of the guest speaker lectured! One even said, and I love the honesty, “I am here to present the use of portfolios and groups as the best way of teaching, but I am going to lecture on this since I have a lot of material to get through in a limited time and this is the best way to do it.” Speaks (or lectures) for itself, I’d say.Report

Daniel Nagase
Daniel Nagase
Reply to  RP Forsberg
5 years ago

I just attended a recent workshop on teaching and that was not my experience at all. All of the speakers basically made us try the new methods being explored by basically shaping their presentations around them. So, for instance, if the speaker was going to speak about gamification, then the presentation would use many elements from games, and the audience was expected to play the games, etc.

Of course, that was an foreign languages teaching workshop (I’m an English as a second language teacher), so perhaps things are different there from the overall teaching workshop?Report