With a show of hands, who wants to be lectured at?

I know, this should be a rhetorical question.  It really should.  Unfortunately there are a few misnomers in the question itself.  You might ask “don’t you mean lectured to?”  While I’d like to, I think everyone can think of at least one experience of a professor or instructor droning forward with straight lectures.  No invitation for class discussion, no chance to reflect on the source material, just 50 minutes (or in the in the cruelest of circumstances, a three hour seminar) of pure lecture thrown at you.  Place yourself back in that classroom, and ask yourself “did I even learn anything?”  Even if you did, the absorption of information was probably minimal at best.  Depending on your own personal experience, you may also remind yourself “this was probably the worst class I’ve ever taken.”  So with the obvious common reaction, why is it that I’m betting 99.9% of you reading this can all relate to this example?

The term “lecture” is something that students and instructors alike are beginning to hate.  This point has become more obvious to me the more classes I take, and the more classes I TA for.  Instructors will make the statement on the first day of class that “I don’t like to lecture for the entire period, so I hope you (the students) will engage in discussion.”  While this provides a far more stimulating situation than having a PowerPoint displayed and then read word-for-word with little to no elaboration, this statement can also start to mimic a plea for help.  It’s like saying the lecture is still going to be boring, and the source material won’t stand on its own without the help of outside discussion and inquiry.

I don’t think I’m saying anything that you yourself may not have already thought to yourself.  So why say it?  Well for one, learning experiences like these are still happening to this day on this very campus.  Reading through Robert Talbert’s article, I found myself nodding my head in agreement without even knowing it.  When you think about some of the better lecturers, do you frame these individuals as good teachers or good speakers?  While I agree that you’re more likely to get more out of a lecture when you have a great speaker, I also think you’ll retain more of the material when you’re placed in a a situation to absorb the material yourself.  Be that in groups, or preparing a train-the-trainer situation, to name a few examples.  Newer and different learning environments are springing up each day.  The New Culture of Learning is littered with diverse examples.  So why do we keep finding the same situation of students sitting in classrooms being lectured at when we can do so much better?

Don’t we want more of   than 

5 Replies to “With a show of hands, who wants to be lectured at?”

  1. Your post poses a lot of interesting questions. I love how the examples given will probably resonate with a lot of readers. I do wish that lectures, when needed, could be more intellectually stimulating, and while having a great speaker does help, I sometimes wish that on average most lectures had higher levels of information that was retained by students. Though, I must admit that I am making an assumption that students do not retain that much. Your post also made me think about whether major topic and the content have a role to play in this. Are certain majors, topic areas and concentrations more prone to lectures? Is it the way the curriculum or syllabus is structured that lends itself to having lectures being the main mode of classroom content delivery? I am not sure, but feel free to share your thoughts if you wish to do so.

  2. Your blog was really interesting this week! I struggle with lectures–with sitting through them as well as making them. As the student, I know I feel fatigued and have to fight disinterest simply because I’m restless and worn out just sitting and staring at a person for a whole 1.5 hours (or even 30 mins) and yet, I still do it! I had to give a presentation last week to the class I’m the RA for, and when I was done, I realized I had made every bad mistake that they’re teaching us NOT to do in this class. I know for myself I have a long way to go before I am the kind of teacher that students WANT to learn from, but I’m dedicated to changing for the better. With the knowledge you have now, what do you think you will do differently in the future in your own classroom experiences?

  3. Very interesting post. One thing that I found really interesting about the Talbert article was the idea that lectures are good in certain situations but not ideal for what we normally use them for. It got me thinking about ways to use lectures when appropriate and to search for more appropriate approaches to allow students that hands on experience.

  4. Pingback: Thoughts on Why Lecture is Obsolete: and why gamification may turn education on its head – K.Culbertson

  5. Thank you for your thoughtful post, Jason. The effectiveness of lectures has been an issue I’ve thought about regularly as a graduate student and as an Educator. I never rose ‘high’ enough (in grade level teaching) to deliver what would be considered a ‘lecture’, but even as an elementary teacher, I realized that the ‘sage on the stage’ role was not for me: mostly because I don’t have much of an ego to feed, but also because I never considered it an effective method of imparting wisdom/knowledge as a student.

    I also read Robert Talbert’s article: Four Things Lecture is Good For reluctantly, because I, like so many of us, do not feel that lecture is an effective pedagogy most of the time. But I was much more optimistic about the power of lecture after I read it. I agree with Talbert’s assessment that if a lecture is intentionally prepared and delivered for one of the four purposes he states, it could very well be a positive learning method. But I don’t recall any lectures I have attended in a university setting that were intentionally delivered, or framed as being for one of the purposes enumerated by Talbert (modeling thought processes, sharing cognitive structures, providing context, telling stories). I have listened to plenty of TED Talks, attended book introductions, attended presentations of research and study findings, heard people tell stories about their life and experiences and never considered them to be lectures. But I never thought about why I hadn’t considered them so.

    This reply got a little long after this point, so I made it into a blog post instead. Here’s a link: https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/kgculbertson/tomorrow-is-here-now/

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