Sunday, October 12, 2014

In Defense of Lecturing, Part II

There are of course many arguments for and against lecturing. In interviewing more than twenty faculty members at my college, one of the main reasons for a dependence on lecturing was “so much material to cover.”  In some cases the covering of so much material is mandated by state standards or accreditation necessities; for example, Anatomy and Physiology, the bane of pre-nursing students.  Students cannot legitimately be expected to learn material that is not discussed in class.  Lecturing is an efficient way to do that, using visuals like PowerPoint, either provided by the textbook company or teacher-created.

A second argument is that the students like it.  They see the professor as doing his or her job by showing up and “teaching” what will be on the test.  In talking to nursing professors, this was particularly the case.  Since there is a high stakes test for nursing students at the end of their course, it is vital for them that they be ready for the test.  They want the needed material “covered” so that they can pass the test.  “Learning activities” are well and good, but they can’t work as a nurse without passing the boards, so they expect no less from the instructors.

Many professors report that students complain and resist the “flipped” classroom and “problem-based” learning approaches.  With some cajoling they might get on board, but the students recognize that, even if the teacher claims they will learn more, that a non-lecture approach is much harder work for them. 

A third argument is “this is what we do” either as professors in a discipline or as professors period.  The students, consequently, should adjust to that, rather than the professors adjusting to them. real

A fourth argument is that only bad lecturing is a bad teaching method.  Some of us are really good lecturers and presenters; we can keep an audience engaged, can sense lagging and know intuitively what to do about it.  We are funny, organized, and know our students.  And some of us aren’t. 

Finally, some concepts just have to be explained orally as well as read about.  Plain and simple.  And some students learn better that way. 

But I am going to take this to a different level.  Lecturing is really a matter of epistemology.  How is knowledge “made” and what is it?  Ever since Paolo Freire termed old-fashioned lecturing as the “banking model” of education (banking, of course, being bad), and ever since constructivism became the flavor of the month, knowledge construction has been seen as existing in the personal realm rather than an initiation into a body of knowledge.

I use the term little-k knowledge for this personal knowledge, which may or may not be congruent with communal, disciplinary big-k knowledge, or Knowledge, just as there is for some “truth” and “Truth,” distinguishing personal belief and value systems from absolute, eternal truths.  Constructivism is a workable theory to some extent but has its limitations; I think the students recognize this.  They can do lots of activities to “construct knowledge,” but is it a stacked deck?  Are they supposed to come to the same conclusions through the activities that the teacher would give them in a lecture?  So, from their standpoint, what is the point? 

I have been guilty of asking questions that are supposed to make them think but really just think my way, just come to my conclusions.  That is disingenuous, to say the least. Why pretend to be “constructing knowledge” through clever, engaging activities? 

Of course, I am creating a straw man of the “flipped classroom” just like others make straw men of lecturers.  It is arguable that less, but deeper, learning may take place with methods other than lecturing.  How much learning is enough?  In some classes the professor has the freedom not to teach all the chapters in a book; some do not have that freedom, because the students must be ready for the next course in the sequence. The expert I mentioned in the previous post is in this situation; an accounting teacher doesn’t have that out. 

I think it’s time to stop with the shaming of lecturers.  Shame never gets you anywhere.  The lecturers will only entrench themselves.  They may be doing a better job of facilitating student learning than others.  It’s also time to stop the either-or thinking. 

I go back to what I heard at a Sunday School teaching seminar.  The worst teaching method is the one you use all that time.  I confess to lecturing, and I confess to trying to create engagements, something that I wake up at 3:00 a.m. sometimes to work out in my head.  Good teachers don’t stop teaching at the end of the course period.

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