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A weblog devoted to teaching in higher education recently found participants— instructors and college students alike— arguing passionately for or against the lecture format. Perhaps surprised by the volume of postings on this thread, one veteran teacher wrote, "I thought the lecture/discussion debate happened back in the 1960s and 70s and was long dead. But apparently, lots of new teachers just repeat these old arguments."
To the contrary, the lecture/discussion debate remains a vibrant one, not only turning up fresh arguments among those new to the academy but emerging again and again in the work of seasoned teachers who regularly reflect on their own pedagogy. Most of us know by now that studies have shown students' ability to process lecture content falters after 15 minutes of sustained attention. Consequently, much literature and research on lectures in the past decade has focused on how to complement professors' delivery of content with exercises designed to motivate students' critical thinking–in short, on how to integrate elements of discussion pedagogy into lectures. Moreover, since lectures endure at many schools as "cost-effective" ways to teach many students with minimal administrative resources, instructors must find innovative ways to deliver content and meet diverse needs of students in ever-increasing classes. Far from dying, then, the lecture/discussion debate not only persists, but its formerly disparate elements have become entwined.
Organization, dialogue, grounding toward critical thinking – these are qualities of good lectures.
Good lectures convey new terms and concepts, delineate historical context, demonstrate function, and draw complex connections between ideas. Well-organized, vibrant lectures offer efficient ways to explain important detail to large groups of diverse learners. Far from one-way monologues that serve as "information dumps" from teacher to student, good lectures ground students in a topic and include activities to motivate their critical thinking about that topic. In fact, a good lecture can model critical thinking for students when "a teacher questions her own assumptions, acknowledges ethical dilemmas hidden in her position, refers to inconvenient theories, facts, and philosophies that she has deliberately overlooked, and demonstrates an openness to alternative viewpoints" (Brookfield, 1995).
Enthusiasm, organization, communication, focus – these are qualities of good lecturers.
Good lecturers learn how to focus students' attention to help them identify and remember central points of the lecture. Considering rhetorical strategies such as context, audience, visual resources, and material demonstration (e.g., gestures, movement, tone of voice) in designing their lecture content and presentation, good lecturers organize lecture periods into smaller units and incorporate break-out activities to counter student passivity and foster critical thinking and problem solving. They provide materials such as study guides, sample test questions, lecture outlines or even lecture notes, slides, or overheads to complement their lecture. After all, students might hear your information, but they only process that information by working with it. Above all, good lecturers understand that the lecture format provides an opportunity to share enthusiasm for a scholarly topic.