Monday, February 27, 2012

Lectures - Part 1

Big Lecture hall flled with students

Lectures have been in the spotlight recently.

Jeffrey R. Young writes that Michael Wesch, an anthropologist at Kansas State University, whom Young describes as "having been on the lecture circuit for years touting new models of active teaching with technology" is now "rethinking the fundamentals of teaching – and questioning his own advice." Young says Wesch now has :a new message" which is that it doesn't matter which method [interactive tools or the lecture] you use if you do not first focus on one intangible factor: the bond between professor and student."

Young then compares Wesch with Christopher Sorenson, a physics professor also at Kansas State, who "champions" the lecture approach despite the questions being raised about lectures as an appropriate method for teaching. Young quotes Sorenson as saying "The messenger, ironically, is more important than the message...If the messenger is excited and passionate about what they have to say it ... stimulates students to see what all this excitement is all about." Young contends that Sorenson believes "his job is less about being an expert imparting facts, and more about being a salesman convincing students that his material is worth their attention."

On February 15, 2012, three days after Young's article was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Daniel de Vise reported in The Washington Post that "The faculty at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has dedicated this academic year to finding alternatives to the lecture" in math, science and engineering. Mr. de Vise also reports that "Harvard University and even the White House have hosted events in which scholars have assailed the lecture." He goes on to report that "The lecture backlash signals an evolving vision of college as participatory exercise....The watchword of today is 'active learning.'

The lecture method is also being questioned at the secondary level as well as in college. On the same day that Young's article was published, Alan Schwarz, writing in The New York Times, reported that the schools in Mooresville, North Carolina have had to limit visitors to groups of 60 once a month to see the changes that have taken place with the introduction of new technologies, where "classrooms have moved from lecture to lattice, where students collaborate in small groups with the teacher swooping in for consultation...even though some teachers "resented having beloved tools – scripted lectures, printed textbooks and a predictable flow through the curriculum – vanish."

Lectures also appeared in the crystal ball of Alex Lindsay. He reported his vision of "The Future of Education" in a Google+ post on February 17, 2012. "Lectures the way we know them don't really exist. Most of school is divided into 4 processes: Movies, Games, Projects and Discussion." Discussions "are really global events: students attend from all over the world. Some are in theatres together, some are at home, some are in smaller event locations. Students at these events are of all ages...based on their achievement levels...Questions are posted and voted on by the group to percolate to the top and be discussed by the expert (or experts -- there are often people from given industries participating in these events). The events are productions, usually with intense graphics and TV-level production values."

In a similar fashion, Daphne Koller of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, in her New York Times essay “Death Knell for the Lecture : Technology is a Passport to Personalized Education” advocates the replacement of lectures with content delivered through video in “short bite size chunks.” She goes on to describe the forums that are part of Stanford courses now: Students can vote on questions” to be answered allowing “the most important questions to be answered quickly” which echoes Lindsay’s dream of global discussions with a similar feature. Knoll does not dream, however. She describes what Stanford is doing now and she believes that “by using technology in the service of education, we can change the world in our lifetime.”

So what do we make of this flurry of comments and discussions about lectures and their place in education? Let us take a closer look at what is being said.

Why are lectures useful?
Lectures are efficient in reducing the costs of educational institutions. They enable one •instructor to produce large numbers of credit hours. Since educational institutions charge for credit hours, lectures are “cost effective.”
•Lectures result in curated topics thereby limiting the time students have to spend on a particular topic. Of course, the curation sometimes brings charges that the curation is politically or personally motivated.
•Lectures often are effective in generating interest in a subject matter - “selling” a student, as Christopher Sorenson said, on the notion that certain subjects are “worth their attention.”

I would offer one comment here. First, it is interesting to note that in all of these musings on lectures, no one suggests that we have any evidence that lectures improve the learning of students.

Why abandon lectures?
•They are too long. Bite sized chunks are more appropriate for the short attention span of students.
•Students often find them boring and a waste of time.
Video presentations can break the limitations that lectures have since they are fixed in time and place.
•They often are not accompanied by activities which engage students in organizing, digesting, evaluating and using the information provided in lectures.
•They are not effective in promoting learning.
•The drop rate in lecture classes is very high.
•The information loss is great and immediate.

What would be better?
•A learning environment where faculty and students bond (Wesch).
•Video presentations (lectures, discussions) led by academics and practitioners (Lindsay)combined with active learning projects (Koller, Lindsay, Schwarz).
•“Flip classes” - classes where individualized instruction is provided in class preceded by video instruction delivered by technology (Koller).
•A system in which students vote on which questions and topics are “most important” and to be addressed first.(Koller, Lindsay)
•The use of products such as iBooks that combine audio, video, graphics, pictures and text into one delivery mechanism (Lindsay).
•Tutoring which Benjamin Bloom demonstrated in 1984 produces far better results than lectures (Koller).

What are the impediments to achieving a better replacement for lectures?
•Faculty do not like to change their delivery techniques. It is personally expensive to them in terms of time. In addition, replacing the lecture requires that faculty address questions they have not faced before such as what are the learning objectives they want their students to achieve and what techniques can lead to the attainment of those objectives.
•Technology plays a central role in all suggestions for change. The costs are often seen as a significant impediment to change.
•Tradition. Lectures are part of our culture and history - in schools, churches and other “cultural events.”

The discussions and debates about lectures and learning are underway. You should be joining them. As you do let me suggest that you first attempt to identify what the outcomes of education should be. I ask myself these three questions:
•What is it that I expect my students to know as a result of the learning environment I am creating and providing?
•What is it I expect my students to be able to do?
•What experiences do I want my students to have had? I am often asked why I include experiences in my set of learning outcomes since experiences are not outcomes. I do so because I believe experiences, especially those that involve regular and directed reflection, are important where the outcomes desired cannot be achieved in a short time frame but where we have evidence (or maybe just good hunches) that a set of experiences increases the likelihood that certain desired outcomes will be attained later in life. I think it is those outcomes that are the real reasons for classes such as Art Appreciation and Music Appreciation rather than the objectives that appear in the tests that accompany these courses: what composer?, what period?, what “school”?, and so on.

Start your thinking. Leave me comments. I will expand on my ideas in later posts. Be a part of that conversation.


  1. I find that lectures are not very attentive as well. I had only one professor that lectured the whole semester and kept my attention and that was because he was so energetic and excited, dancing around the stage and always putting enthusiasm in his lectures. Other than this one professor, the lectures were boring and somewhat confusing. I would have activities that students had to do or always ask them questions about it. For example, if you are a history professor and your lecture for the semester is on the history from 1877 to present. I would split the class into groups and they would have a few projects. They would first reenact some of the situations in history. Then they would have to build some of the scenes in 3D. For their final, they would have to create a power point presentation and dress like the important figures they are presenting. This is just one idea that could take over lectures because I believe students need to be active in discussions and the learning process, that's why they are students.

    1. Your ideas seem very good to me and could be easily done. But have your students do Google Presentations. They can be done with free software! :)

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  2. Lectures in my opinion are good as long as the students are able to provide feedback and be active in the lecture. For instance, the lectures containing questions directed to the students; but really is that a lecture or a discussion?
    I like the comment by Mr. Young, that the messenger is more important than the message; because students very easily lose focus during a lecture. I haven't attended many classes where the lecture doesn't make me yawn.
    As a teacher, I hope to have discussion lectures, as I would call them. Lectures that would involve the students and keep their attention. I understand that concept of cost; that it is cheaper to have these sorts of classes. How can we compare a child's education to cost? The future of the children is important to most teachers. What is the point of school or an education if the students are not learning and retaining the information?

    1. And yet I think some lectures can stand on their own such as those of Sir Kn Robinson and Dr. Randy Pausch which I had EDM310 students watch and listen to. But then I did have them "discuss" those lectures in a post. It would have been better, perhaps, to have a small group discussion with 2 or 3 students in each small group led by a student or a Lab Assistant. But those types of activities are often not possible.

      Thanks so much for your comment. As you can see it stimulated my thinking which is what I hoped would happen. And I think it also stimulated your thinking which I also hoped would happen.

  3. I belive that lectures are benifical, but only if the material is presented well and explained throughly. I hate it when a teacher reads from a powerpoint continuously, and dosen't stop in between to hold dicussion. I agree with Mr. Young that the messenger is more important than the message. This is so true. I want my students to benifit and learn from my lecture. I don't want to just have a lecture to take up class time. I'm gonna do my best to be a teacher whom is remembered for the gift of teaching with the intent to give each and every student knowledge.

    1. Summary of C4T

      Lectures are beneficial, but only if the material is presented well and explained thoroughly. I agree with Mr. Young that the messenger is more important than the message. Dr. Mcleod grabbed my attention with the sarcasm and satire. If not caught it could give the wrong understanding of the topic. Sarcasm is pretty self explanatory, but on the other hand satire can be confused and not understood.

    2. Thanks for your comments Byronn. I agree that some lectures work better than others. Certainly the Last lecture by Randy Pausch and the lecture on Creativity by Sir Ken Robinson were example of excellent lectures. We can certainly learn from them when we retrying to determine what makes a good lecture and what makes a poor one.

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. This was a well thoughtout post Dr. Strange. I grew up on lectures, whether in church or even now, still in classrooms. If someone asked me, "are all lectures bad," I would definitely say no. I beleieve, in some areas you must lecture, like educating a child on what's right or wrong, or even sermons(in most cases). But you brought out some beautiful points in this post. For example, when Daphane Koller said, "by using technology in the service of education, we can change the world in our lifetime.” Technology is definitely needed in today's educational classes and more. It's faster and more reliable than most methods used today. Surley lectures can be boring, and like stated in your post, we don't retain but a small portion of what is spoken, but technology is fun and a nice learning tool, it is our future for education. Now, I'm sure there are many debaters of this idea, but with every great dream, their are a thousand opposers sent to kill it. But we must dreamimg on, and continue chasing our dreams, to see them come to past! Not later, but "in this lifetime," as Koller so sweetly put it.

    1. Yes, we must continue to experiment and dream. I agree. But not do the dreaming in the middle of the lecture? Maybe it is appropriate even then!

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. Dr. Strange,

    I also have had the problem of being bored and/or falling asleep during lectures. At the same time, I learn the best from lectures. I do not feel that we should abandon lectures completely, but instead integrate some of the ideas presented such as the more interactive environment. I personally feel that it's not the "idea" of the lectures, but rather the approach taken by professors that bores kids. Students become bored when teachers tell the students information rather than teach them information. So what's the difference? The interaction. I feel that a teacher who asks the students questions in order to get feedback would make a huge improvement. This helps to let the teacher know what students know and information he needs to spend more time on or skip over. All in all I believe that some lectures must be adjusted not abandoned.


  6. Dr. Strange,
    I would like to thank you for the invitation to comment on your blog this week, and for allowing me to substitute my C4T assignment in order to read and comment on your blog post. The debate concerning the benefit of lecture in the classroom is a topic that I am extremely passionate about. There are many different theories among educators concerning how to manage a classroom, but all educators seem to revert back to the default method of teaching which is said to be lecture. I hope that all educators would agree that student comprehension of the curriculum is the most important aspect of education, and right behind student comprehension is the teacher's method of presenting the material in a way that will provide the student with the best chance of comprehension. Take note that I mentioned the student before the teacher; this is because the students comprehension is far more important than any other aspect of education. Each teacher should be open to the teaching method that will most benefit the student. Student comprehension is of the most importance!

    The question that needs to be answered centers upon the teacher's method of enhancing a child's comprehension. I feel that the material must be stated to be understood. The classroom material and objectives must be stated by the teacher in order for the student to have a direction or starting point. I find that people learn by experience regardless of how many instructions have been given. For example, I would have never learned to write in cursive or do my multiplication tables if a teacher had never given me the opportunity to learn from experience. I often wonder why teachers change their philosophy of teaching as students grow older by excluding student involvement from the classroom.

    We as humans are given five senses. Each of these senses enable us to perceive the world around us. I often wonder why educators find it beneficial to limit a student to one sense because by doing so they limit the child's comprehension by 80%. Lecture is strictly limited to oral communication, and oral communication will not provide a student with a full comprehension of the curriculum! Is lecture therefore of no value? Lecture seems to always be practiced in the classroom but as the ancient saying goes, everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. However, I do find lecture to be extremely beneficial in regard to education. Lecture is beneficial when used in balance with other teaching methods.

    Lecture puts more emphasis on the teachers knowledge, and lecture puts less emphasis on the students comprehension. I feel that teaching tactics could be grouped into three categories: lecture, research, and discussion. People know very well the role that lecture plays in the classroom, but I find lecture to be best utilized as the instruction which enables students to explore and comprehend ON THEIR OWN. The learning method of self motivated comprehension is what I would term “research”. Students should first audibly consume instruction form lecture, then the student should take full advantage of his or her other four senses by researching the information addressed in lecture. Classroom discussions are absolutely necessary for each student to fully understand the information consumed through lecture and research. I have never become more passionate about a topic until I discuss the results of my research with peers. I find that discussion enables students to practice what they have have learned rather than the traditional consumption of information through lectures and research. I do not rank lecture, research, nor discussion; but I find each of them to be dependent on one another. To exclude one of these teaching tools, in my opinion, cripples a student from fully comprehending the material.

    Lecture can be beneficial when used appropriately in regard to providing a student with the best learning environment. Feel free to give me constructive feedback on my comment! I look forward to your reply!

    -Keeley Bryan

  7. Keeley:

    Thank you so much for this splendid commentary. I find that most students either don't hear or don't remember instructions delivered orally. But I am currently listening to an audio book (much like a lecture I think) and it is working for me. Of course I am driving while listening and I miss being able to take note in the margin of the book, or develop an outline of the argument on paper. So.... I will also buy the book. Fir lectures there is often no book to buy. But The Last lecture of Randy Pausch and Sir Ken Robinson's lecture are remembered and commented upon by students with great success while many miss the arguments of other videos or written materials. There are so many variable involved we will probably never fully know what happens when we listen to lectures. I think the balance you call for is important. The problem that the balance for one person may not be a balance for others. Multiple routes should probably be available. But that is often difficult and/or costly.

    Thanks very much!

  8. Kellen,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that questions are a very important part of the process. It may be possible for others to ask those questions instead of, or in addition to, the lecturer.

  9. Thank you as well Dr. Strange for giving me the chance to use this for my C4T second post.

    As someone who learned under the lecture method and thought to teach under that same method, I have pondered long and hard about the pros and cons. I wonder if it comes down to control. As the lecturer, you can control what the student learns, and how they learn it. You can also control the classroom easier. As the "controller," you represent authority and demand respect. Frankly, that worked for a few generations. If my professor/teacher was passionate, it showed; and I responded in kind. Some were boring; but I considered that a form of self discipline to force myself to listen and learn. I paid for my education, so I intended (and intend) to get the most out of it. When I began to sub, I expected to have my authority acknowledged, respect given, and control maintained. A truly foolish concept for today's students.

    The question I have is no longer whether the lecture method is effective or not. (And I really think it had its day.) The simple truth is that it is no longer appropriate. Today's students are Internet savvy, and sadly cynical. It takes a great deal to capture their attention. They are born multitaskers. Expecting them to sit for an hour or so to hear a teacher lecture is just not really possible. And anyone who thinks they are sitting and listening are fooling themselves.

    I have a historical perspective. Education has changed throughout the centuries, reaching out to make the next generation better, smarter, stronger. By stepping away from what once worked to something that now works makes complete sense to me. I realize now that students today will give respect when they know you care. Authority is a foreign concept to them. (We could have a nice long discussion on the pros and cons of that.) We have a golden opportunity to open windows never really available before. This time as educators, we are merely at the front of a group of people more or less learning together, not the one standing on the podium pointing out the way. I like that.

    However, it is a tricky spot to be in as we are still responsible for student safety, academically as well as physically. For myself I sure would like to drop in on the education system in about 100 years and find out how all this shakes out. I wonder if 100 years from now, they will be back to the lecture method?!

    1. Thank you for an extremely thoughtful and intelligent response. As a sub you have seen the real world of today, not the world when you went to school, nor the idealized world of many teachers of teachers.

      In 100 years, what will Ms. Winkle see when she awakes? My guess is that schools as we know them today will be gone. They will probably last, if they do not change drastically, no more than 20 years. Instead what we know today as schools will become baby sitting establishments and detention centers. Learning will take place individually and collectively in some form not yet invented. Both the individual and corporate learning will be connected through existing and yet to be invented technologies. Alex Lindsay's Google+ article, to which I have a link in my post, gives one an idea of how they might work, be organized and be staffed. It will be interesting to see what actually does happen. If you continue in the education process you will be caught up in those massive changes.

      Thanks for your very fine comment!

  10. Dr. Strange, I have finally got around to reading this post! Thank you for letting me participate in place of a C4T assignment! I have talked with my friend, Keeley Bryan (who has posted above) and we see eye to eye on the debate of lecture. "Lecture, research, and discussion...". When I think about my career as a future educator I can't help but to be aware of the different learning styles that every student will possess. Personally, I love a lecture class. I know that it may sound crazy, but I love to write notes while hearing someone speak about a subject. However, I note that my future students will most likely not share my views. (haha)

    What I am getting to is that I want my classroom to be a classroom of engagement, whether my students are listening to me talk passionately about a subject, or working in collaborative groups, I will find a way to encourage them and keep their attention. I, I know that EDM 310 is preparing me in ways that I could have never imagined. The things that I am learning are those engagement tools. Thank you for everything you do, Dr. Strange!

  11. Dr. Strange, I can honestly say that I can agree with what you are writing about lectures. As I student, I dread going to class and having to listen to an instructor talk about a subject rather than show me why it is important and how I can use it in daily life. I have never taken a class like your EDM310 class and it has shown me a lot of great tools to use for when my time comes in the classroom. Engaging students is the best way to get them to learn and retain information. Times are changing and the "traditional" way of educating youth is becoming invalid. I know that my classroom will be up to par with the techniques, tools and technologies that I have learned about.

  12. Dr. Strange
    I strongly agree with what you have said about lectures. Me personally I hate having to go to a class where my instructor reads straight from the power point or straight from their lecture notes.I would rather them be more interesting and actually show me why the material they are teaching is important and how it will be useful in my daily lifestyle rather than them just reading me what they think about the subject. This is my first time in a class such as EDM310, where you are basically your own teacher and have to teach yourself the tools you will need to teach your future students. Although your class is kind of tough, it is preparing us for the future and helping us further our knowledge in technology. Technology is constantly changing and we should always stay up to date as teachers. We hold the key to someone's educational experience. With that in mind, I think we should want to do the best we can and learn as much as possible so we can fill their minds with more knowledge than what they came to us with. I look forward to becoming a teacher and using some of the tools I have learned in this class.
    Joy Eady

  13. Dr. Strange,

    I have been "fussing" about the lecture method of teaching since I started college. I have had many professors simply lecture directly from PowerPoint slides. Oftentimes, these slides were provided, in entirety, by the textbook company. I felt as though my professors did not truly care about their students. I think that the "bond between professor and student," as Wesch suggests is very important and can be addressed in many ways. One of those ways is to not read from PowerPoints that are pre-made.

    I think that the traditional lecture method has had its heyday. I don't advocate for its complete eradication, but I do think that it needs to be used sparingly and carefully.

    I plan to use a combination of videos, interactive learning projects, discussions, and lectures to keep my students fully engaged and actively learning. It's important to find a level at which I can connect with my students and thus, facilitate an eagerness to learn, as well.

    I hope to impart in my students an understanding and awareness of imagination, possibilities, life, and real-world skills.

  14. I too agree with the stance that lectures are ineffective in this day and time. I feel that students these days are accustomed to getting information so quickly, that lectures are something the shy from and hate.

    As an aspiring history teacher, I know that lectures are generally how history is handled. I hope to find different ways to educate my students in history; I want those ways to be captivating. I want my students to WANT to learn. Videos, projects, and other various teaching tools should help me do this.

    Hopefully, I can also assimilate Google tools into my classroom as well. I have learned quite a bit about them throughout EDM310, and I have found many things I can do with them. I hope to instill that fascination in my students and get them excited about technology and history at the same time!