Worthen goes on to argue that the challenge of actively listening and processing information is a valuable and often under-developed skill for college students. She states, "Absorbing a long, complex argument is hard work, requiring students to synthesize, organize and react as they listen." The approach challenges students to effectively take notes in a way that helps them to engage with and internalize the material. Although I often write about active learning strategies and the importance of varying teaching strategies, I think Worthen has a point.
As I've begun reading more in the scholarship of teaching and learning, I've picked up on a pretty striking bit of either/or thinking. It seems that folks who favor the lecture on the one side and proponents of active and problem-based learning on the other have created a false dichotomy. Why do we have to be proponents of only one approach? Why can't we incorporate both forms of learning activities where they make sense in service of student learning?
To be too dogmatic for any approach to teaching and learning limits our thinking and can put greater emphasis on a teaching approach than on student learning. The neuroscience research upon which Universal Design for Learning was developed suggests that to continually privilege any particular learning activity is a disservice to the diversity of our students' varied learning styles and preferences. I think we can systematically find ways to remain pedagogically neutral and determine the best "fit" of learning activity type based upon the learning goals and needs of our students.
Strategies for integrating lecture with more student-centered approaches
Lecture can include more than one voice. We often think of lecture as a 50-minute monologue by the professor. Indeed, this may often be the case. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. The lecturer can build in regular Q&A activities during the lecture. In larger lecture classes, she can utilize polling software like Poll Everywhere to elicit student feedback or check for understanding. Students can also be prompted for small and large group discussions based around instructor or student-created prompts. This back and forth between the lecturer and the students can greatly enhance the lecture.
Start with your learning goal to determine what approach(es) makes sense. Some topics and learning goals lend themselves to the lecture format. For example, an introduction or setting of the stage can be a natural opportunity for a lecture. Similarly, when the professor hopes to illuminate subtle or nuanced connections between ideas, a carefully designed lecture can be most effective. When application of concepts is required or when the professor hopes to promote divergent ideas related to the topic, lecture would be less effective.
Introduce a topic with shorter duration lectures. In some cases, 50 minutes of listening and taking notes, even when part of the goal is for students to develop the focus and self-discipline required to engage in the lectures, may be a bit much. One way to compromise is to develop shorter-duration lectures, intermixed with more student-centered learning activities like engaging in a brief case study or to provide the space for reflection.
Incorporate multiple representations for longer lectures. When we do need to leverage longer lectures, we can appeal to diverse learning styles and preferences by incorporating multiple representations of the content (UDL Principle I). This can be as simple as using slides that incorporate visual links or representations to the content you are discussing in the lecture. You can also embed video clips, simulations, and other forms of media to provide students with additional ways to engage with the content.
Incorporate multiple means of expression during and after lectures. The other half of UDL is to provide students with multiple ways for action and expression with the content. This can be achieved through intermixing some of the student-centered learning activities described above. Students can also be offered multiple ways to synthesize material from the lecture. This can be achieved through some form of student response, debate or discussion, or through the development of a model.
In the end, how we design the learning experience in our courses shouldn’t be driven by a laser-like focus on a particular teaching approach any more than it should be driven by a particular technology. What should drive all our decisions in the classroom is student learning.
How do you incorporate lecture with other approaches in your teaching?
Please post your comments below.