Preparing for the start of spring semester ultimately includes prepping lectures. In Learning from Each Other: Refining the Practice of Teaching in Higher Education editors Michele Lee Kozimor-King and Jeffrey Chin share a section on Classroom Techniques—as a guide for new instructors but also a refresher for experienced professors.

Below read Diane L. Pike’s thoughts on reclaiming the lecture:

We are in a moment in higher education when lecture alternatives are being aggressively marketed and put into practice. This trend is a result of both pressures to adopt new technologies and therefore different pedagogies, as well as the cyclical realization that we need to take teaching seriously and keep our teachings current.

Nearly wholesale rejection of lecture is being promoted in many places, but it fails to serve either the students or instructors very well.

My hope is that this chapter succeeds in helping us reclaim a pedagogy that endures for at least the foreseeable future. …

The Lecture

The content of the lecture is critical. Content may not always be king, but it should be front and center most of the time. Is the content worth knowing and more than just traditional “coverage”? Have we attended to the clarity of the lecture’s structure—a beginning, middle, and an end? Have we considered the importance of the flow of the content, the relevance of the content to the learning goal of the session, and the relationship of the content to the effective use of technology? All these factor influence how the content of the lecture is experienced.

Paying attention to the importance of logically organized content—what we lecture on and in what order—can lead us to think more carefully about what we include at all. We may recognize that some of our “coverage” is really esoteric facts that will not be tested or used in analysis nor does it link to the main learning goals. The content included needs to have a connection to explicit learning goals for the course, the unit, and the session. (“Here’s what we’re doing today and why.”) With content, sometimes less is more, and sometimes, slower is more. Especially in lecture when the goal is the story, the cognitive modeling, or the inspiration to know more or understand why. Let’s make sure we have organized content that is worth having the students know.

It is also important to keep in mind that the best way to use face time with live human beings also speaks to differences in disciplines. While students working a tried-and-true problem set together during class can make sense in physics or math, much of social science learning is different from working problem sets. In sociology, we often guide students through an understanding of cultural relativism or the meaning of symbolic interaction theory. In an economics course examining the Great Recession, there is likely a need for scaffolded discovery by the instructor to complement small group discussions or individual reading. In psychology, lecture demonstration around classic findings, such as bystander issues or conformity, can be effective in multiple ways, both affective and cognitive. So we need to nuance ideas about lecture, as Hattie (2011) puts it, “to our intentions.” It probably makes perfect sense not to ask students to sit still for 60 minutes watching someone else work a complex chemistry problem on the board or explain a detailed GDP slide, but that does not warrant the full-blown dismissal of lecture whether for chemistry or one of the social sciences. Lecture can be one of the reasons we are all in the room together, whatever the discipline.

As for the place of technology in lecture, the sheer quantity of attention to, research about, advocacy for, and resistance against the use of technology in teaching is both helpful and overwhelming. There are more opinions, research conclusions, daily practices, institutional policies, and products than one can manage. The jury is still out on what works and what does not. All we can do is go with our best understanding at any given time and work hard to separate the research findings from the personal preferences and from the sales pitches.

See the Table of Contents.

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Learning from Each Other.