The Power of the Lecture

Flipped classrooms, just-in-time teaching, problem-based learning, think-pair-share

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Teaching techniques definitely have fashion seasons just like clothes or shoes or interior design. For the past ten years or so, lecturing has been out of fashion in many pedagogical circles. Published articles present evidence that students perform better on outcomes assessments if they are actively engaged with the learning material. The question is: how do we get our students actively engaged?

Techniques grouped under the heading “student-centered learning” have taken the lead in blog conversations about teaching.

The most popular approaches right now involve small groups or pairs of students putting their heads together during class to solve problems, ask questions about the course material they have prepared for before class. Before class, your students have viewed a lecture you prepared in advance, or had them view various videos. They have also read assigned material before the class session. Then, when they get to class, they use that time “actively” with questions, scenarios or problems you have prepared for them to use together. These active techniques do work, but they assume that your students are doing the preparatory work in advance to have the most productive time in the classroom possible. How do you as the instructor get your students actively engaged?

Here is a nice web page that describes some best practices in teaching.

You can have students who are so busy that they do not take the time to carefully prepare for class. Then, in the student-centered classroom activities, they sit passively and participate only minimally. Class discussions are halting or superficial. Is this better than a dynamic lecture that questions and evaluates the information in a creative way?

It’s most important to be sensitive to the “temperature” of your class community. Some classes are rather cool when it comes to active participation in class. These students will say that they do not learn well in small groups and that they would prefer lectures or more active involvement of the professor. Some classes are warmer to the idea of student-directed learning. It’s your job as the instructor to take the temperature of your class and be nimble enough to make adjustments. If your classes are anything like mine, half of the students prefer the instructor-focused strategies and half prefer the student-centered approaches. Now what?

What I do is deliver a combination of lecture and questions from me with discussion-focused student-centered approaches. I try to organize the major concepts into modules that include lecture and group-work.

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Depending on your course material and your class personality, lectures can be powerful and exciting for students and can be the right format for them to learn material. Many students have told me that having an enthusiastic professor is the most important aspect for successful, engaged learning. Lectures are not dry and inaccessible unless you craft them that way. Lectures can be engaging, even exciting and can provide an interactive scaffold for student learning.

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It’s great to have so many innovative approaches to student learning. The dynamic lecture is an important technique to keep out of your recycle bin.



One thought on “The Power of the Lecture

  1. Thank you for extolling the virtues of dynamic lecturing. As part of our kit, we shouldn’t abandon this tool! Particularly for small classes, dynamic lecturing is actually really easy to turn into discussions, Q&A, and other activities, based on the teacher’s game-time understanding of how the students are doing, how well prepared they are, and their mood and fatigue levels. So, yes, taking the temperature of the room is key!

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