I am sometimes asked which instructional delivery system I think is best: traditional lecture lab, self paced, or computer aided and online. Like a trick question, the answer is all of the above. Each method has strengths and weaknesses. I have used each at different times in my career and enjoyed the advantages and suffered the frustrations of each of these delivery styles. Most people are familiar with the lecture format. In fact, to many people the other formats are not really teaching. I do not agree with that sentiment, but I understand why people sometimes feel that way. I will talk today about the lecture format and cover the others in later columns.
Undoubtedly, the lecture format is efficient at disseminating information to large numbers of people. If we are honest, it also appeals to the ham in most instructors: we like to talk! I will admit that I enjoy lecturing, and I believe my students enjoy my lectures. However, I may not be the most objective judge. Lectures can be engaging with good preparation and a well developed style. However, they can also be deadly. The derisive terms “talking head” and “chalk and talk” are well deserved. Did you ever see a video that is basically a picture of someone while lecturing? Usually they are hard to sit through. After watching a few I decided that the reason the videos of my lectures were boring was that the original lectures were boring. I was talking, and talking, and talking and I am sure the students were nodding off. Remember, your job is not to just cover all the topics, it is to teach your students. A big problem with lecture is that people do not tend to retain most of the information they hear, active participation is needed to retain the information. A few ideas to increase student participation are taking notes (not a big hit with students), asking students questions, asking leading questions, regularly entertaining questions from students, or engaging them in a dialogue. I like the dialogue format. Today, I don’t tend to talk to my students as much as have a structured discussion encouraging their participation and asking them questions. Repetition is also good. If something is important, don’t just say it once, say it several times using different approaches. After you think the students know the information, ask some questions to find out.
Speaking style and delivery is important, but can vary a great deal from one person to the next. In general, you need to be interested in what you are saying. Students can hear the interest and passion in your voice. They can also hear disinterest and lethargy. You need to be interested and excited about your field. Humor works for some speakers, everyone loves to laugh. Don’t feel compelled to tell a joke, just use humor if it comes naturally. Stay away from jokes involving off color, racial, religious, or political jokes. Jokes on yourself are fairly safe and students enjoy a laugh at the instructor’s expense. Most people find stories more engaging than a recitation of facts. Having taught for many years, I have a large body of stories to draw on.
Visual aids are great for creating interest. Rather than draw a crude diagram of something on the board, pass around examples of the real thing. If you have a video projector and document camera you can zoom in on parts and show details to the whole class that are not easily visible even to someone holding the object. The table in front of where I lecture is usually a mess because it is covered in stuff I brought in from the lab to show. The ultimate visual aid was a complete transport refrigeration unit sitting in the corner of the class room when we were teaching transport refrigeration. Students disassembled the unit, brought the frame and pieces into the class room, and then reassembled the unit in the corner. When I talked about the location of parts I could actually put my hand on the part on the unit. We gave tests using sticky notes attached to components and students were required to identify components. They would come up, look at the component labeled #1, and write down its name and function. That room is now used for an Interior design class and for some reason they did not want a refer unit in the corner, so we disassembled it and took it out of the room.
Powerpoint presentations can also help, but avoid letting the powerpoint presentation BE the lecture. Nothing is more boring than hearing someone read the text of a powerpoint presentation. I remember being surprised when several students mentioned to me that another instructor’s classes were boring. This instructor had really world class powerpoints that he had developed. They were complete with movement, animation, great details, and good photos. In fact I was rather envious of them. However, the students said they started to doze off as soon as the lights were out. They were not actively participating and they tuned out. This is not to say you shouldn’t use powerpoint presentations, just remember that they are a supplement, not a replacement.Personally I feel that the biggest weakness of traditional lecture lab is the lab component when five people are assigned to work together on something that really only requires one person. I will leave that discussion for next time.