Thursday, September 20

In Defense of Lecturing (Mary Burgan)



  • “In the past dozen years or so, pedagogical reformers in higher education have registered their sense of the faculty's teacherly flaws by proclaiming that the effective teacher should be "a guide by the side" rather than "a sage on the stage." Many practicing faculty members find this jingle insulting; it embeds an implication that they are self-enchanted blowhards who don't understand that teaching involves more than shoveling information and interpretation into their students' heads....
  • ...Major appeals of lecturing—the passionate display of erudition as valuable in itself—regardless of the rewards of approval or popularity.
  • ...Rarely do students have the chance to observe intellectual mastery and excitement in their daily world. When they find it on a campus, it validates the life—the liveliness—of the mind.
  • …Excellent lecture sessions raise questions in ways that inspire students to seek answers together.”
  • Finally, then, lecturing should be defended because a narrow view of learning as mainly self-generated misses the fact that the vitality of the educational exchange in college often derives from the engagement of the student with a professor who is himself involved in a lifetime of discovery.
  • "We teach in order to learn...Organizing a course, preparing a lesson, we become acutely aware of what we need to know to do that job properly—and of the gap between that blessed state of perfect knowledge and our actual situations. Teaching drives us to learning—and to the learned who can help us join their company" - Robert Scholes.
  • I suspect that Scholes's definition of college teaching best matches the understanding that drives many teachers in American higher education—whether they lecture or conduct discussions. They believe that it takes a knowledgeable, trained, passionate professional who has committed to a career in real classrooms to instigate and direct what students do there."


  • "...research shows us that lectures actually work against the human brain. After four to eight minutes of listening to a talk the brightest brains in the room seek other adventures … It’s not necessarily you that bores listeners, but more the fact that brains were not made to be talked at.
  • ... why have they survived without much challenge by lecturers? The answer may surprise you.... Lectures are actually a huge asset to the person talking at you...? While it is futile for passive learners who retain less than 5%, lecturers brains spike on every topic they teach, since teachers retain 90% more through the process of lecturing and teaching, according to National Training Institute in 1999.
  • Compounding the problem are the off-the-shelf products like Adobe Breeze that promise quick elearning development. All they accomplish is to capture the tedium of PowerPoint presentions with the boredom of a lecture.

The problem might not lay with the lecture itself, but the way we conduct our lectures (Effective Lecturing!). The same goes for e-learning, blended learning, quizzes, games, role-play, virtual worlds, etc.! If the quality is poor, our students will simply get bored and think somewhere else. It is easy to blame it on this method or that, but the real problem might actually be with our own ability (or inability!) to teach, facilitate, engage and inspire students to learn.

In addition, the lecture method's value should be appreciated beyond the content retention measure. It also encourages students to develop note-taking and active listening skills (Yeah, we could also add patience, role-modeling, story-telling, etc.) . Actually, "lectures delivered by talented speakers can be highly stimulating; at the very least, lectures have survived in academia as a quick, cheap and efficient way of introducing large numbers of students to a particular field of study (Source)."

One might argue that we can simply record our lectures (podcast, Breeze, Articulate, etc.) and let them watch/listen at their own sweet time, and then we can focus on discussion and activities during class (Well, it would be great if all students were that disciplined! It is possible if you are creative enough, though!). Of course, it is nice to listen to the intellectual mastery (or disaster!) in recorded form (again and again!), but you can't beat the live show. Yes, it is nice to watch Obama on TV (or YouTube!), but if I had the choice I would prefer attending his inspiring lectures or speeches live. Then again, if you do not have a choice, his YouTube videos is also tremendously useful (Excellent resource to pattern excellence in public speaking!) :)

The key is to find a balance, using different appropriate methods to engage and inspire the students to learn, which could include a lecture, discussion, group activities (problem-based or case-study), student presentations (their own little lectures!), and collaborative reflection. By doing so, you will be able to engage or enrage (Marc Prensky) all the students' learning preferences, expectations and needs. A typical lecturer might argue, "I will not have time to cover the syllabus if I engage my students with a lot of activities and fun. My answer would be: Focus on the Juice, Key Outcomes, and Learning! (Who said you have to cover every inch of the syllabus!)! At the end of day, we don't just want the students to score for the final exam, but we want them to develop the knowledge, skills and competencies to survive and succeed in a increasingly competitive 'Flat World' :)

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