Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool

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Alex Guggenheim's picture

Lecturing is based in Teacher or Instructor authority. This is generally resented by those who have problems with authority which makes it not so surprising NPR would latch on to this tiny microcosm of learning and attempt to prescribe it universally.

There are some contexts that do have differing learning models which are more beneficial but this is but one sample. What a silly and indiscriminate conclusion.

Larry's picture

Moderator

On the other hand, in certain disciplines, thinking through problems in groups is a far more efficient way to learn how to think about problems, and to learn how to solve them because it actively engages the mind rather than passively engaging it. I generally learn much more through interaction than I do through lectures. And it really isn't about authority. It is about thinking processes. Lectures generally teach people what to think. Thinking (and failing or succeeding as in the illustration) teaches people how to think. Guided interaction is a far more effective way to teach some things, particularly at some levels.

There are certainly some disciplines in which lecture is the best way to teach. But it is often a very inefficient way to teach. So I would be cautious in playing the authority card here.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

When you state "on the other hand" this implies I did not recognize other learning models and only advocated for one, that is incorrect.

As to the issue of authority and lecturing, I certainly disagree. It is not a sole property of the lecturing model which elevates its value but it is a property to which many people with authority issue object. In fact, the very nature of being a Teacher who is lecturing is based in authority regarding both the subject and the learning process.

But you do seem to take two opposing views. You state, at least implicitly about the nature of lectured learning:

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certain disciplines, thinking through problems in groups is a far more efficient way to learn how to think about problems, and to learn how to solve them because it actively engages the mind rather than passively engaging it.

then later state:

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There are certainly some disciplines in which lecture is the best way to teach.

So if, in lectured learning the mind is allegedly passively engaged, how can it ever be the best way to learn?

Obviously one may learn passively but you treat passive learning to be inferior or less desired in your comparison to "active learning". So when is passive learning "the best way"? Are you saying the less desired or inferior way (your implication) is better sometimes? If so, when?

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But it is often a very inefficient way to teach.

This is a rather remarkable claim in light of no support or evidence. "Often" means frequently and "very inefficient" is not just mild but on the extreme side. I am interested in what facts support this claim.

Possibly you mean you mean "learning by lecture exclusively" is often a very inefficient way to teach with the idea that many subjects simply require ancillary models such as reading or lab? But then if that is the case the lecturing would serve its purpose effectively as would the ancillary models so it certainly does not seem this is what you have in mind.

Andrew K.'s picture

We need to distinguish between lecture to large groups to lecture to small groups, because they are very different animals: lecture to small groups can entail a larger amount of feedback (via Socratic questions, etc.), and is therefore a very useful and effective means of dispensing information.

Although I think I understand what Larry is saying, I would actually argue that lecturing to large groups is an incredibly efficient way of passing along factual content to the largest amount of people possible; that is in fact its only saving grace, and I would say the sole reason it continues to have a place as a teaching tool.

With regard to other models, I think lecture has very little use in passing along skills and application of knowledge, except as a model prior to dedicating the lion's share of time to practice (group, pair, and individual, as best suits the occasion) and feedback (peer and teacher).

I do think Alex is on to something as well, though, in the current (and, as I understand it, largely unproven) educational bias toward student-centered instruction and away from the teacher as an authority.

神是爱

Joshua Louk's picture

I believe that part of the evidence for what Larry is saying is based both in his personal experience and in the article itself.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

The lecture method is a sacred cow that needs to be put to pasture. Learning is the ability to transform information into skills and experience into knowledge that has an affect on our behaviors and attitudes. By default, learning involves interaction and application. Lecturing is the scholastic version of the potato sack race- you might eventually get to the finish line, but it ain't the most efficient or sensible way to go about it. Unless a student's interest and critical thinking skills are engaged on some level, it's just the Chalk&Talk for the Sit&Git.

There have been many studies in this area, and those I have read demonstrate that interactive classrooms result in higher achievement across the board, regardless of the subject matter. Here are two such reports-

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Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Fall2004, Vol. 84 Issue 4, p58-58, 3/4p by Ray, Julie A.
Research about the learning process has demonstrated that learning occurs when students are actively engaged, have opportunities for interaction with
others, are presented with challenging situations or questions that require critical thinking skills, and are surrounded by a nurturing learning environment.

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Journal of Education for Business, Jan/Feb97, Vol. 72 Issue 3 by Lindquist, Tim M.
Abstract: This article describes a test for the efficacy of a jigsaw structure of cooperative learning. University faculty subjects are exposed to both traditional (passive) and cooperative (active) learning. Findings indicate that faculty subjects perceive that cooperative learning contributes to classroom goodwill and achievement. In addition, actual achievement scores for faculty subjects are significantly higher on an examination taken after a cooperative learning lesson as compared with those taken after a lecture.

From the article in the OP-

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While most physics students can recite Newton's second law of motion, Harvard's Mazur says, the conceptual test developed by Hestenes showed that after an entire semester they understood only about 14 percent more about the fundamental concepts of physics.

...The traditional lecture-based physics course produces little or no change in most students' fundamental understanding of how the physical world works.

"The classes only seem to be really working for about 10 percent of the students," Arizona State's Hestenes says. "And I maintain, I think all the evidence indicates, that these 10 percent are the students that would learn it even without the instructor. They essentially learn it on their own."


Even when the lecture method is 'successful', it is still dependent on the student taking charge of their own learning.

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"Students have to be active in developing their knowledge," he says. "They can't passively assimilate it."

Ditto that.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

There does seem to be a diminished perspective as to the objective of lecturing as part of the more comprehensive educational process. If lecturing is being used where more fitting models may be used this is not a fault of the lecturing model but its use. Calls for retiring lecturing as part of learning simply fail to give appropriate consideration to its function and value. As to the comment about learning - the student takes charge of their learning with any model. BTW this inconsiderate theory would remove large volumes of academic pubs to say nothing about theological pubs which are wriiten using the lecturing model.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

The origin of the lecture method is rooted in the pre-printing press era of education. The word 'lecture' means "to read". Books were not mass produced, and so to acquire knowledge and information, young scholars would copy books as they were dictated by a 'lecturer'.

But learning itself has always involved interaction with others, not simply copying notes. That is where the passive lecture method fails miserably. Students may acquire information in a class that is strictly lecture, but it will be their own efforts-debate, discussion, mentoring... that result in learning, not the dictation itself.

The other aspect of this is technology- the proliferation of ways and means to acquire an education. If lecturing is so great, then why not have lectures recorded once and be done with it? I'm glad you asked- because no university or college professor wants to believe they are obsolete. But without an interactive classroom model, lecturers are now obsolete. It's already being done- I've used Academic Earth and iTunesU for a couple of years now. Time for 'higher' education to wake up and smell the 21st century.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
When you state "on the other hand" this implies I did not recognize other learning models and only advocated for one, that is incorrect.
"On the other hand" here simply implies another response that shows another perspective. No implication otherwise.

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It is not a sole property of the lecturing model which elevates its value but it is a property to which many people with authority issue object. In fact, the very nature of being a Teacher who is lecturing is based in authority regarding both the subject and the learning process.
To borrow your approach, wouldn't you would have to show some evidence of the idea that people don't like lectures because they don't like authority? How many is "many"? Is that a number or a percentage? How does it break down by age groups and educational level? And what does "object" mean? Are they refusing to listen? Or just would rather do it another way? And how do we know any of this?

Of course here, I am using your approach from later in the post, and I imagine that we all recognize that my statement (and yours) weren't meant to be scientific findings, but general impressions. So I won't hold you to the standard you want to hold me to, and I won't indulge yours all that much either. But over all. I don't think it really matters. Some may do as you say. If they do, they need to change. Focusing on authority issues, when that is not the target or even implication of the article, seems out of place to me, particularly when you have a professor who is in the practice of teaching, who has studied the subject and written on it, rather than a couple of armchair critics shooting from the hip on the internet. And when the authority (the prof in this case) says this is a better way to do things, that seems a legitimate argument.

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But you do seem to take two opposing views...
No, those are not two opposing views. My comments are referring to different situations in certain disciplines. It is one view for one situation, and one view for another situation. They don't oppose each other because they refer to different situations.

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So if, in lectured learning the mind is allegedly passively engaged, how can it ever be the best way to learn?
Because, as I said, there are some disciplines in which active participation is an inefficient way to learn. There are some things that are best communicated by lecture, and therefore it is the best way to learn. For instance, if you want to get a good introduction to philosophy, it is not best to sit down with a proposition and discuss it with two or three peers at the same place in learning. It is better to have an expert lecture for a while because he has already read and studied the stuff you need to read and study to have an introduction. However, if you want to learn physics, it is likely best (as this article shows) to sit down with some peers and start working through problems. Then have some guidance, and then work some more. The professor can just stand up there and give answers, but you probably don't learn as well how to think through problems that way. You only learn what to answer.

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Obviously one may learn passively but you treat passive learning to be inferior or less desired in your comparison to "active learning". So when is passive learning "the best way"? Are you saying the less desired or inferior way (your implication) is better sometimes? If so, when?
Generally, passive learning is less desired if there is a better option for various reasons, including the discipline of learning to think and the fact that when one discovers something they are more likely to retain it than when they are told something. Lectures are not less desirable in certain cases such as when something would be too cumbersome to discover through exploration and experimentation on one's own or in a peer group.

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This is a rather remarkable claim in light of no support or evidence. "Often" means frequently and "very inefficient" is not just mild but on the extreme side. I am interested in what facts support this claim.
It's not remarkable, or at least not any more remarkable than your claim about authority. And the article provides support and evidence, and I add to that my personal experience. If yours is different, that's fine.

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Possibly you mean you mean "learning by lecture exclusively" is often a very inefficient way to teach with the idea that many subjects simply require ancillary models such as reading or lab? But then if that is the case the lecturing would serve its purpose effectively as would the ancillary models so it certainly does not seem this is what you have in mind.
Possibly. I doubt there is any "learning by lecture exclusively," but I could be wrong. It's happened before and will happen again, or so I am told.

JG's picture

I suspect that anyone who has pastored very long has encountered multiple cases where you really only feel like you get through to someone when you've talked to them personally. But there are the other kind that show up frequently, too.

That is where someone is simply unable to learn when discussing something in a personal conversation, because they are too busy getting their answer ready to actually listen to what you are saying. And that person, if they have any respect for authority, may be prepared to listen and hear you out when you are "preaching" (lecture format of teaching commonly used in church meetings). They can't answer you right then, and they know it, so they actually listen to what you say, and then they learn.

I do think in many cases (not all, maybe not even most), authority/response to authority has a role in how people respond to different teaching methods. So I think Alex has a point, even if I'm not sure how much I agree with him.

If we are to be swift to hear, then we could use language that is rather more blunt -- sometimes I need to shut up and listen. The lecture method may not be the most effective educational approach in many cases, but it brings a spiritual discipline as well, and I'm very doubtful whether it should be completely discarded.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Larry

I was speaking self-evidently as a property of the function of a teacher which does not demand syatistics only whether or not you believe it exists as a property. Your assertion required external substantiation

Lee's picture

This same issue comes up on a regular basis, only with different identified culprits. A number of years ago rote memory was the bad guy and roundly poo-poohed as something that should immediately be discarded out of hand for something more "thought provoking," never mind that there are some things that can only be assimilated by rote (multiplication tables anyone?). Today its the lecture. Next Thursday it will be something else. Face it, educators and fundamentalists like to self-flagellate as to why what is the norm and has been the norm for some time is no longer apparently working.

A couple of my education professors had a running quarrel. One was fond of saying "if the student hasn't learned the teacher hasn't taught" while the other would counter "if the A student hasn't learned the teacher hasn't taught," effectively moving the onus to the student.

Besides, our cultural enamorization with programs/methodology that can be marketed makes it a practical necessity to find a new culprit from time to time simply to maintain market share, so some new teaching/church model is bound to make an appearance shortly, with the current being the reason the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

The fact of the matter is that there is a time and place for each. And particularly in the setting of the church and spiritual realm this realization needs to be tantamount. For example, counseling is an important part of pastoral ministry, but there is not much place for counseling until there has been a foundation laid in sound preaching (a lecture by anyone's standards).

Teach according to your gift. If you are a gifted lecturer--lecture. If you are a gifted counselor--counsel. If you are a gifted discussion group leader--do that.

Balance. Learn balance.

Lee

Anne Sokol's picture

I think it's a little more complex than just doing what one is gifted at.

I teach childbirth classes. In my early days, I lectured. It was interesting, too. People liked it. Lecturing is also pretty easy--it's efficient, concise, organized, neat, etc.

But the more I grow as a teacher, the more I try to get my clients involved in the classes, physically, verbally, etc. Then they remember and integrate more.

I have listened to 1000s of hours of lectures in my life, and very little of it do I remember, even though I think it was somehow significant to my life. I actually enjoy listening to lectures. Are sermons lectures?

Did Jesus lecture? While He talked/taught/spoke with authority, He also had a very wide variety of actions, stories, illustrations.

I think those who have an issue with authority would have the issue with the authority no matter what teaching style was used.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

The question here is not one of completely doing away with a teacher speaking in a 'lecturing manner' to students, but pointing out the inefficiency of classrooms where that is the only way the teacher presents information. The professors lecture, the students take notes, they memorize the information for the test. That's SOP in many classrooms. Does this promote or demonstrate understanding and mastery? If learning is truly the purpose of the classroom, we need to admit when current models and methods are faulty and make corrections.

What this also illustrates to me is that we all are always learning. None of us have arrived at a point where we have nothing else to learn about how the world works or the best way to do things. Does that mean life is sometimes 3 steps forward and 2 steps back? Yep, it sure does. But missteps and even failure are just as instructive as our successes and triumphs. IMHO, having made my fair share of oopsies.

As for whether or not Jesus lectured, or preaching is a form of lecturing- I believe that preaching and teaching Scripture is a primarily spiritual, not academic, act. It has supernatural implications that are just not comparable to learning how to launch a rocket or conjugate verbs. Plus, Jesus spent 3-1/2 years as a walking object lesson, with the disciples interacting with Him constantly. That is as far from the classroom dynamic as one can get.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Susan,

I believe that the occasions are rare in which the method of learning is purely lecture, note taking and then testing. Usually, even with a lectured class, there are ancillary assignments involving self-study which augment the lectures. I believe what you describe exists but not to the extent or with the carelessness that you seem to be implying.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Alex- what you are saying supports the article's premise. That those students who learn are the ones who invest in self-study, not those who simply take notes and attempt to memorize enough information to regurgitate on a test in order to pass. But should teachers be satisfied with this, or should they attempt to engage those students that don't respond well to pure lecture/note-taking?

I believe classes that are primarily lecture-based are more SOP than not. Or what's the point of the article in the OP and the others that I linked to in post#6?

Alex Guggenheim's picture

No, what I am saying is that most lecture has with it assigned ancillaries (homework) which involve self-study. Again, rarely is just lecturing the sole means of educating.

However, per the article, it is a microcosmic sample and a ridiculous one to conclude what it did about lecturing. And that is my point. But personally, from experience, I have learned in a most excellent and robust fashion from a good lecturer and I am certain I am not alone. The prescription being given by the article has a long, long way to be proven and its fractional sample is insufficient.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I provided more supportive documentation from other disciplines. I could post more- I have scads of research on my shelves and in my bookmarks.

The fact is that only a few students are autodidacts, and most require more interaction than a lecture and homework. If a professor doesn't want to teach the other 90%, he's got no business in the teaching profession IMO. Teaching isn't about how the teacher wants to teach, but about meeting the needs of students. I know, I know- that's educational heresy. But I'm stickin' by my guns on that one after 31 years of teaching.

If I were to accept that lecturing is the best method of teaching, then by all means- let's gather the top minds in various fields, record their lectures, produce Power Point presentations, give additional reading suggestions, and be done with it. Why pay these guys to stand there and say the same thing every year when we can streamline the process and stop paying such exorbitant tuition? 'Cause whenever we start talking about the demise of the university, people start saying "But you'd lose all that great classroom interaction." Oy vey.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

No one has said it is "the best method". I get the impression you sre projecting assumptions. The contention is with the prescription by the article based on a micro sample. But as stated by someone earlier, lecturing is quite superior on some occasions which demand broadasted in formation.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
...lecturing is quite superior on some occasions which demand broadasted in formation.

Then in those areas where lecturing is superior, record the best and brightest and broadcast away. I'm good with that. I already said that I have been using online lectures for years to round out my kids' schooling. I just don't depend on it when it comes to helping them understand, internalize, and apply the information itself. Which is what learning is dependent on.