Lectures and Alternatives

I work with a group of new instructors who teach a career college program to international students. I have been analyzing student feedback, and reflecting on how to provide them with tools, ideas, and strategies to increase student engagement and motivation, while at the same time delivering the content outlined in the syllabus.

It's quite a challenge because the students speak English as a second language, and most of our college instructors do not know how to teach to this type of audience.

There are certain techniques that work, like structured discussion, and ones that do not, like reading the textbook pages aloud to the students without accompanying slides. Stephen Brookfield states the critique of lecturing is that it induces passivity and turns students into objects rather than participants (p. 98).

To comment on lecturing first, I will say that the students in this program, as an example, will be able to follow a lecture, and benefit from it. When we make the decision to use this teaching approach, we need to be clear exactly what it's intended to achieve; not just to us as teachers, but also be apparent to our students (Brookfield, p. 99).

The advantages to lecturing are that it an help establish a teachers credibility and authenticity by allowing students to peer into the teacher's mind (Brookfield, p. 100), but no lecture should have more than 20 minutes of uninterrupted teacher talk time.

For this post, I hope to present some creative ways to keep the lecture, and some alternatives to use in its place. To start, here is a list of characteristics of helpful lectures, provided by The Skillful Teacher (p. 101-113):

Use a mix of teaching and communicative approaches:
  • deliberately introduce periods of silence to promote reflection
  • introduce buzz groups who generate questions to ask at scheduled times during the lecture
  • break lectures into 12 minute chunks
Organizing the lecture so students can follow:
  • use scaffolding notes (like a skeleton)
  • use clear signposting and verbal cues
  • pause!
Model learning behaviors
  • begin the lecture with the question you are trying to answer, and then answer it
  • introduce alternative perspectives (using the students from above, ask them for different cultural perspectives)
  • give them time to think critically
The most important technique teachers can use when lecturing is evaluation. Evaluate your lecture to explore what it is you are doing that the students find helpful or unhelpful. The best way to see if your lecture are effective is to videotape yourself, and then watch it. There will be evidence of what's working and what's not.

Next, I'd like to share this article summary and video with you. Once you read them and watch it, it will change the way you think about lesson planning.

Based on the Mindshift article
Don’t Lecture Me: Rethinking How College Students Learn By Tina Barseghian September 13, 2011

Harvard physicist Eric Mazur, one of the pioneers in developing a new way to teach large classes, says Peer Instruction is a particularly effective way to teach classes at a college or university level, or professional classes.

It is standard in a lecture style class for students to be assigned readings from a textbook, even though we all know that most college students don’t read them. Typically, students come to class to figure out what information the professor thinks is important, and then they go to the textbook to read up on what they didn’t understand.

Here’s how Mazur does it:
  • Before each class, students are assigned reading in the textbook. 
  • Students to familiarize themselves with the information beforehand so that class time can be spent helping them understand what it all means. 
  • Using a web-based system (see below), everyone submits answers to questions about the reading before coming to class. 
  • The last question asks students to explain what confused them. Their answers are used to prepare a set of multiple-choice questions used during class. 
  • Class begins by giving a brief explanation of a concept, followed by one of the multiple-choice questions. 
  • Students get a minute to think about the question on their own and then answer it using a mobile device. 
  • Next, students share their answer with a partner. 
  • Once the students have discussed the question for a few minutes, students are asks to answer the question again. 
  • Then the process repeats with a new question. 

Resources for you:

You can see a video of Mazur's approach in action here:

If you are interested in hearing Mazur's own explanation of when his teaching changed, watch this video where he explains himself, here:

A great web-based system to use for this technique is Socrative.
To try it out, I created a sample quiz for a TESOL class I teach at ILAC International College.
  1. Log on to the site, or download the free app. 
  2. Enter the room number: JUJSVJSA 
Other helpful resources for alternatives to lecturing are:
Interactive Lectures Carleton College Science Education Resource Centre
Promoting Learning through Game Shows On Course Workshops
Active Learning For The College Classroom Cal State Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

I put together and have a few questions for you to reflect on which might help you build a better learning experience for your students as soon as tomorrow.

  • What alternatives to lecturing have you tried? What were the positive and negative sides to what you tried?
  • What alternative listed above would you use as an alternative to lecturing? Why?
  • What might you suggest to help newer instructors to gain the confidence to move away from lecturing?
  • When are you going to film yourself teaching? If not, why not? Do you want to improve the student experience and your student appeal rating?


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