This is Bulls**t

As discussed on this blog, evidence continues to mount that conventional lectures do not promote critical thinking and deep learning. Blighe (2000) explained why conventional lectures are  less likely to result in critical thinking than other forms of teaching. I’ve gathered four of my favorite and most inspirational presentations to demonstrate why conventional lectures need to be abandoned, and if not abandoned, significantly changed. The interesting thing is that these speakers are using the same technique to communicate with their audience that they decry, well not quite. Lectures certainly can be inspiring as Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture”  demonstrates. But are they meant to engage the audience in critical thinking? Possibly,  but Donald Clark addresses this conundrum in response to the common arguments in support of continuing to use lectures  on his excellent “Plan B” blog:

as I’ve heard it many times before,

1) … lectures are not about ‘teaching’ but ‘showing practice ’i.e. what it’s like to be a physicist, whatever, 2) some lectures are good e.g. Martin Luther King’s speech etc. and 3) lectures must be good as they’ve been around for so long.

I don’t buy any of these arguments as 1) that’s not what lecturers or students think, expect or require, 2) the fact that a chosen few can do something well (like surgery or any other form of expertise) doesn’t mean that it should be done by everyone 3) slavery was around for millennia but it doesn’t make it right – you can’t derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.

Clark, D.(2011)  Abandon lectures: increase attendance, attitudes and attainment. Plan B. Last visited May 26, 2012.

To put this series of presentations in context, Michael Wesch’s classic video “A Vision of Students Today” illustrates who we are trying to engage in our classrooms. Educators are faced with a generation of students living and learning in a culture much different from what they experienced when attending school. To effectively engage these learners, educators must engage the cultural milieu of the digital age.

“Don’t Lecture Me” by Donald Clark effectively demonstrates why the conventional lecture is ineffective for critical thinking and classroom learning.

This blog post gets its title from the Jeff Jarvis’s Tedx talk. Jarvis, an associate professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, implores educators to make the classroom experience more social and interactive and less about the one-way dispensing of information by a teacher to their students.

Finally Professor Eric Mazur discusses how to use peer instruction in the classroom to effectively engage students to promote learning in his talk “Confession of a Converted Lecturer”. His approach is similar to “flipping” the classroom, an approach getting attention these days.

It’s time that educators move away from conventional lectures and towards more effective pedagogical techniques. As Professor Mazur says, we should “shift the focus from teaching to helping students learn”.


About Michael Ritter PhD
Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, science textbook author, educational technology blogger, podcaster, and freelance media consultant.

One Response to This is Bulls**t

  1. Pingback: Eric Mazur: confessions of a converted lecturer | The Digital Professor

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