Friday, April 20, 2012

On lectures: "I do not think that word means what you think it means"

Over at Hacked Education, there's another familiar "new! revolutionary!" idea about how the consummate evil known as "the lecture" can be banished to its rightful place in the netherworld of teaching:
It’ll mean that the university classroom can be “flipped” – with lectures pre-recorded and assigned as homework. Koller, who’s been flipping her classroom since well before Khan Academy popularized the term, says that universities have been reluctant to add “active learning” opportunities at expense of covering “the curriculum” via lecture.
I feel like my own recorded lecture here, or maybe I've just been writing this blog too long. To recap:

(1) "reluctant to add active learning"--seriously? And who defines "active learning"?

(2) "flipping the classroom" by assigning students to listen to an hour of lecture before they come to class: does that really happen? Do they listen or do they blow it off and then have the instructor repeat everything in class?

(3) and "cover the curriculum"? "Coverage" is a shunned term at Northern Clime, and I think we have to put 25 cents in a swear jar every time we use it.

How the haters define a lecture: recording an hour of cr@p that is a waste of time for students to learn all at once, when they could spend 10 hours "discovering" the principles for themselves outside of class because they would of course put in the 10 hours, since all students put in 3 hours for every hour of class time, just as the Education Fairy has always said they do.

How I define a lecture: an interesting talk (not an hour but maybe 20 minutes) on the subject that is intensely interactive, with student hands shooting up because they have questions and want to know more  as you talk.

You tell a story that weaves together concepts in an effective way, and, judging by their faces and reactions, you know what to emphasize, what to repeat, and what to leave for another time.  You can lecture on the same subject, but you never give the same lecture. Recording it would not be the same, since you tailor the lecture to the students.

A lecture puts everyone on the same page and in a similar frame of mind for the class activities that follow it. It demands participation. It asks questions. It engages students.  And they hear each others' questions, for isn't that why we're meeting in a classroom in the first place?

Food for thought: Have you ever had a student evaluation say "more and more group work, please, but no lectures"?

To quote Inigo Montoya, "I do not think that word means what you think it means." One of us is wrong, and frankly, I don't care if the educrats think it's me.


sophylou said...

This kind of thing always makes me wonder if people are basing these assumptions on what they remember from their own college education however many years ago, rather than on what is actually being done NOW.

heu mihi said...

Perfect! Thank you. As for your last question--to my surprise, student evaluations indicate that they like it when I "lecture" (which is often--as you describe--giving a 20-minute interactive presentation); less surprisingly, they generally loathe group work. I do believe that group work can be valuable, so we do some of it, but it has its limitations: There are always students who don't pull their weight; none of the students are experts in the field and they can wander far astray in unproductive directions; etc.

And no, they would never, ever watch a pre-recorded lecture. Nor would I, for that matter.

I'm really looking forward to the day when this particular professor-bashing trend subsides.

Psycgirl said...

As a student I loved lectures. I could half pay attention and take notes and zone and never interact with people and I LOVED it!

There is nothing I hate more now as a prof than when I go to a workshop and have to do active learning.

Z said...

I can´t stand active learning either, much prefer lectures.

I did have lectures I skipped in college - in calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations. The professors, stuffed shirts, would get up and read the textbook to us - which they had written. It had been assigned and there had been homework from it, so I didn´t need to hear it again. I got 2 years' worth of As by going to work out instead of class, and only showing up for exams.

Anonymous said...

I certainly did have lecturers when I was an undergraduate who were just reading their book, more or less, and since I figured even then I worked better where music and tea flowed freely, I opted to just read their darn book instead. But since then I have aimed not to be such a lecturer, even if by the sound of what Undine says about their lectures I have a way to go yet.

undine said...

sophylou--either that, or they watched a bad academic movie at a young age.

heu mihi--same here! I know there's a Puritan contingent that says that if they LIKE lectures we should not give them lectures because "active learning" is better for them, but can't we mix it up and do both?

psycgirl--agreed. Active learning is all right for some things, but if you (teacher) have information and are not going to share it with me ever via lecture, it is irritating.

Z--that sounds like the perfect reason to skip lectures, and math is what Khan Academy apparently does best.

tenthmedieval--when you said "music and tea" I thought for a moment you were talking about the kinds of seminars that have that going on. I would rather read the book, too, than listen to someone read it to me.