Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Find: In Praise of Lectures

Currently vogue in internal university discussions involving education is the idea that the standard lecture format for a course is not the most effective means to educate students.  We here at Hopkins are quite interested in understanding better how serve our entering students in the large-lecture courses we call Gateway Science courses (Our study of this issue here at Hopkins is appropriately called the Gateway Science Initiative.  Also, you can read a JHU-centric white paper on this issue).  I am on the Steering Committee studying this issue.  There is a lot of talk about active learning, and other alternatives to inspire students who do not benefit from the simple instructor-led lectures.

I definitely agree with the idea that the classroom experience could benefit from a purposeful study of how our students acquire knowledge and an active design approach to how we teach.  However, I was always a bit troubled by some of the criticism leveled at the standard lecture format.  I love lecturing, feel comfortable in leading a classroom this way, and see great value in the experience.

It turns out I am not alone.  Thomas Korner, a mathematician in Trinity College at Cambridge University, has written a defense of the lecture format:
 I find this essay particularly inspiring.  Give it a read.  It definitely says things that I strongly agree with.


Brian Murray said...

Lectures are great way of learning. However, if a student misses a concept in a large lecture, they may be reluctant to interrupt the class and ask a question.

The solution is small tutorial sections led by teaching assistants. That way, students have the opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification on unclear concepts.

As an undergraduate, I took several of the gateway courses discussed in the white paper. Unlike the math department, the course in other departments didn't have tutorials.

Richard Brown said...

I hear you, Brian, and like very much the recitation environment in addition to the lecture in our math courses here at Hopkins.

In my lectures, I always try to generate discussion and questions, with varying degrees of success. But with success or not, I really like the environment....