The Reflective Educator

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Don’t Lecture Me

Some highlights from the video above (thanks to @smartinez for sharing it):

  • Hardly anyone who teaches actually applies the scientific method to their teaching.
  • Most students are stuck on the Aristolian perspective of how physics works, learning real physics is incredibly difficult.
  • Disagrees strongly with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  • Our old theories of learning haven’t been updated in 50 years. "We just accept them."
  • Lecture is the default teaching method at universities.
  • If you are going to do lecture, at least do it right. Increase the scale of the lecture, improve the skill of the lecturer. At least do it right.
  • If you have respect for the lecturer, your attention goes up, and your retention of what they say increases.
  • Hundreds of thousands of kids go through awful lectures each year.
  • Teachers ask too many pseudorhetorical questions, don’t give students enough time to respond, and students only ask an average of 2 questions a year.
  • Socrates often bullied his students into accepting his view of the world so the Socratic method is not all it is cracked up to be.
  • Lecture comes from "to read" as in reading a sacred text. "Preaching instead of teaching."
  • Feynman discovered that in Brazil students could learn from the book, but knew no physics. "Teaching through lectures is a hopeless task." ~ Feynman
  • "Data is not the plural of anecdote." ~ Eric Mazur
  • "Lecture is the transfer of the notes of the lecturer to the notebook of the student without passing through either." ~ Eric Mazur
  • Give the students the notes in advance. Seating arrangement matters. Lead your lectures through questions. Use feedback from your class to determine which way to go ahead. If majority of students are incorrect, have them discuss the ideas with each other.
  • "I’m just going to give it to you once, you have to get it right the first time." Lectures should be recorded since students will need multiple times to learn it.
  • What’s the point in recording lectures that were bad in the first place? Make sure the lectures are good.
  • Attendance at lectures is horrible.
  • Why don’t we worry about students not attending lectures? Why aren’t we doing something about it?
  • 25 minutes tops for attention span.

Here are ten fairly good points from his talk:

  1. Why are lectures 1 hour long?
    We based the length of lectures on scheduling, rather than on the attention span of the learner. 1 hour is itself based on the Babylonian time-system, and is extremely arbitrary as a result.
  2. Tyranny of time
    We have lots of ways of sharing our lectures whenever students want to access them, why do we force them to access them one time from a lecture hall?
  3. Tyranny of location
    Why do force people to attend something in person when they can’t interact anyway? If students could be involved in the discussion, then having them physically present makes sense, but otherwise, there is no particular reason they should have to come to the lecture hall itself.
  4. Psychological attention span
    People can’t focus for very long, particularly after a few days of lectures. We subject learners to class after class after class, when in fact their attention span cannot handle that much information to process.
  5. Cognitive overload
    Lecture crams too much information into a small amount of time. Students are forced to handle more information than they can handle, which is absolutely debilitating for learning.
  6. Episodic and semantic memory
    The mind doesn’t cope very well with the mixture of semantic (the processing of the content of the lecture) and episodic (from the processing of the visual) information you are receiving.
  7. Learn by doing
    Nothing in lecture gives students opportunity to engage with the material themselves. People learn loads from actually applying their knowledge.
  8. Spaced practice
    People need repeated practice over time, rather than one-off lectures. Lectures tend to give information and assume the learner will go and practice the information themselves, rather than allowing time for the learner to practice using the new knowledge immediately.
  9. Not collaborative
    Lecture isn’t at all collaborative. It’s probably not intended to be, but collaboration is an extremely effective way to learn, given the feedback you receive from your peers.
  10. Personality problems
    Teaching should not be the secondary job of a researcher. This is not a problem experienced in most K to 12 institutions, but is a serious problem at higher levels of education.

These are some pretty serious problems. What could you do to modify your practice? Should you lecture for an hour? I don’t think so. Instead, I recommend that you cut your lecture to only 10 minutes, on a small amount of material, and then give your students time to practice and engage with the material immediately.