Saturday, 16 July 2016

is the criticism of the lecture a result of poor oratorical skills?

A recent article posted on The Atlantic website revisits the issue of lecturing vs active learning. Maryellen Weimer, Lolita Paff, Carl Lovitt and I discussed this at the Sunday plenary of the 2016 Teaching Professor Conference this past June in Washington, DC. Similar to Christine Gross-Loh, we suggested that good teaching requires a mix of active learning and lecturing dependent upon the needs of the student. A good teacher doesn't simply leave their students to forage for themselves. On the other hand, a good teacher also guides students to construct their own knowledge structure. As I wrote in my editorial for the 2016 volume of CELT, teaching is similar to tuning the dial of an analog radio between the two continuums of lecturing (teaching by telling) vs active learning (learning by doing) and this is dependent upon the intellectual level of the students. Actually, rather than being dependent upon the intellectual level of students, it might be better to say it is dependent on how developed students are as independent learners. The primary task of higher education is to train students how to learn. The best result of a bachelor's degree is the ability of students to research the answers to their own questions. As I have said elsewhere, the ultimate independent learner is a researcher - when the knowledge is unavailable to answer a question a good researcher will collect the data and produce the knowledge required to answer the question.

But I digress....

What Christine Gross-Loh suggests is that the problem with lectures stems from a lack of training of higher education professors in the skill of public speaking. This is a skill that was once taught and developed in colleges and universities but declined during the 20th century. If graduate students were taught to publically speak in an engaging manner (and this does not mean continuous exposition but rather speaking, discussing, thinking, active learning, and telling) then perhaps the lecture (broadly defined) would not be so maligned. Perhaps the wealth of data that indicates that lecturing (continuous exposition) is hazardous to students' grades is a result of the decline of training the professoriate in properly lecturing/teaching. Christine Gross-Loh would not be the first to suggest that this may be a result of increased emphasis on research at the expense of teaching.


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Bart M. 2016.Lecture vs. Active Learning: Reframing the Conversation [internet]. Faculty Focus, June 24.
Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, Smith MK, Okoroafor N, Jordt H, Wenderoth MP. 2014. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(23), 8410–5.
Grow GO. 1991. Teaching learners to be self-directed. Adult Education Quarterly, 41(3), 125–149.
Gross-Loh C. 2016. Should Colleges Really Eliminate the College Lecture? [internet] The Atlantic, July 14.
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