Several weeks ago, my brother’s fiancee pointed me in the direction of a segment on NPR’s All Things Considered that discusses the efficacy of the lecture as a means for student learning. Physics professors at Harvard have dramatically altered their pedagogical strategies in an introductory physics class, away from lecture and more toward student discovery and experiential learning.
As the article reports, the results have been quite promising. As a product of a fairly conventional educational system, I, too, often was taught through lecture, especially in introductory level courses. However, the classes in which I learned the most forced me to take ownership of my own learning. It seems as though this experiment in teaching does just that as it asks students to make guesses, potentially make mistakes, and figure out why the correct answer is, in fact, correct.
It’s funny because I think that most people seem to hold on to the belief that it’s good enough to simply speak the information to students in order for them to understand even though very few of us learn the most effectively that way. I have always suspected that the lecture holds strong not because it works best and not even just because it’s the way we were all taught, but mostly because it’s the simplest way for the teacher to prepare. It’s much easier to spit out facts and generate basic lecture notes than it is to create learning activities that will be meaningful for students and address the same information. Perhaps it’s time that we all begin admitting that what’s easiest for the professor might actually be worst for the students. I’m not suggesting (nor does the article, I don’t think) ridding of the lecture entirely, but instead determining those moments when lecture would not provide the most meaningful learning experience possible.