I’ve been really pleased to receive comments on my recent blog Another Bell Tolls for the Lecture. (Chiefly, as it’s proof that someone actually read it.) I wasn’t sure when I wrote the blog, how well it would be received. Teaching is an emotive subject. It’s very difficult not to demonise staff when we talk of the need to change practice.
A very realistic view, but perhaps not as ambitious as one might like! https://t.co/klF8Nn79to
— Gwen van der Velden (@Gwenvdv) December 22, 2015
Am I unambitious? Yes. If I had the power I would scrap the lecture immediately but like most of those who try to influence education, I don’t. I’m also careful when talking about teaching practice and prefer to give a balanced view. I know plenty of staff who would fight tooth and nail to keep their lectures. Staff are under enormous pressure and it’s easy to cause offence when you discuss their practice. Especially given that a lot of the reasons for the use of the lecture are beyond their control. I think it’s important to acknowledge the external constraints and pressures that they suffer. It’s easier to blame an individual for poor delivery of a lecture than blame the systems that perpetuate the lecture format.
The University Economy
All Universities strive for more students. More students = more money. More money = more buildings etc. The problem with more students is you need more room and more staff. These are not forthcoming in any university I have worked at. For more students you need more staff, again, rarely forthcoming, so we build a bigger room to fit them all in so then we still only need one lecturer. Hence the perpetuation of the lecture. If we get more students, and do small group teaching only, we need more rooms and more lecturers to timetable.
I have no idea whether universities have determined the critical mass of student numbers. Clearly there comes a point where student numbers are such that the university infrastructure cannot cope. Appointing new staff can be a lengthy and costly process, as a result new staff are not necessarily employed in time to cope with the increase in students numbers. This results in the preservation of a model that most would accept, and research demonstrates, is not the most effective way for students to learn.
Is delivery the problem?
Stephen thinks so and I agree to an extent. Bad delivery is not unique to the lecture. All teaching can be delivered poorly. Bad teaching is simply bad teaching. There are lots of reasons why teaching can be bad, sometimes, even with the most careful planning and preparation, teaching just goes wrong. I can certainly think of lots of car crash sessions I have delivered. The difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher, in my opinion, is whether they reflect on what went wrong and try to change it.
Stephen mentions discussion which, when poorly facilitated, is no more effective than the lecture. Done well discussion can be the a valuable method of teaching. I read an interesting book on discussion recently by Stephen Brookfield and Stephen Preskill called Discussion as a Way of Teaching (2005). They have adopted discussion as their main teaching method and reflect on the pros and cons.
Active is the most important word in Stephen’s comment. Active learning is the key to effective teaching and learning. Whether that be through discussion, group work, problem based learning, polling, questioning etc. Is active learning easy to do in the types of rooms and with the sizes of classes we are given? No. It’s hard but we can many small things to make a difference. I know of a lecturer who dances in his lectures. Not everyone’s cup of tea but his students love it and it certainly keeps them awake. Other encourage discussion in pairs or use a polling system to quiz their students in the lecture. It’s not easy, but we can do it.
I think a good start would be to remove the lecture v.s. small group teaching dichotomy. Techniques and methods used in lectures and small groups should not be considered as mutually exclusive. All techniques, when well used, will work in any teaching context.
The perceived hierarchy of those who teach and those that learn should be broken down as a collective collaboration of learning. Stephen Fisher December 2015
Yes please. Collaborative learning would certainly ensure the students can influence and invest in their learning. Again, I am drawn to mention all the constraints that make this very difficult if not impossible. We do a lot to involve students in the development of their programmes. Through various forums and through student reps however, the downfall is that improvements usually happen after the fact; too late for the current cohorts to benefit from. This is largely due to the bureaucracy that surround programme and curriculum development. I’d love to know more about how Stephen sees this being achieved.
It was great to see Teuta Hoxha, who’s article in the Guardian “Is missing lectures harming my studies?” in the Guardian prompted my writing the original post. I’d love to know more about how you’ve been directing your own studies.
Tell Us More
I would love to hear from staff and students about the lecture. Do you love lectures? Hate lectures? Want to save or scrap lectures?
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