Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

In Defense of the Lecture

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

In Defense of the Lecture

Article excerpt

Science education research has produced empirical data supporting good teaching techniques. An awareness of this body of knowledge can be helpful in deciding what to do with your 50 minutes to increase the effectiveness of your lecture. Some simple but effective research-based lecture strategies are reviewed.

Teachers teach, professors profess, and students learn. This is our conceptual model for education. In this age of active educational research, we have more information on how we think and learn than ever before. Yet, many teachers and professors continue to rely on age-old instructional strategies, many of which are ineffective and inefficient. Why are these practices perpetuated? As students make the transition to professors, they commonly emulate the teachers they had as students. Additionally, many professors are not aware of research in science education, or how this research might impact the effectiveness of their own teaching.

Teaching is an art. Being able to detect students' interest, attention level, and comprehension involves a suite of tangible and intangible signals from students. However, education research makes teaching every bit as much a science as it is an art. Teachers who are aware of research supporting good teaching techniques can learn to implement them more efficiently.

Perhaps the most tradition-laden strategy for instruction is the lecture. This strategy can be traced back to Greek society and Plato's Academy, where oratory was the principal mode of mass communication. This system was adopted and used by medieval European universities, where instruction took the form of reading a book (the word lecture comes from the Latin legere, meaning "to read"), followed by commentary from the instructor. Often, only one manuscript of any work was available because of scarcity and expense, and the lecture was the only way in which the knowledge stored in these manuscripts could be disseminated to students (Kozma et al. 1978).

The lecture has been criticized for its lack of effectiveness as an instructional strategy. The usual arguments tend to run along the lines of encouraging passivity on students' part and of discouraging critical and independent thinking. Yet, when these authors reflect on our most memorable experiences as students, lectures that were well-organized and well-delivered stand out. Good lecturers knew how to get and keep our attention.

It is unlikely that the lecture method will be given up any time soon. Should this be of concern? Perhaps. Does it mean that our educational system is doomed to fail? We do not think so. Kozma et al. (1978) suggest that at least part of the reason that lecturing has received such negative attention has more to do with teachers doing it so poorly than with its potential effectiveness as an instructional strategy.

McKeachie and Svinicki (2006) note that lectures are good because they (a) are appropriate for communicating up-to-date information on the most current research and ideas related to the topics they are studying; (b) can summarize related information from scattered sources in a much more efficient way than if students were to read the sources on their own; (c) can be tailored to the specific interests of their audiences; (d) can enhance students' abilities to read relevant text; and (e) can motivate students to learn more about the topic, particularly if the lecturer shows enthusiasm for the topic. Further, lecturers, as experts in their subjects, can model scholarly behaviors such as approaches to problem solving.

Conversely, Kozma et al. (1978) point out that lectures are disadvantageous because they (a) essentially are a one-way mode of communication, giving the student little or no control over the nature, rate, and flow of information. If used too much, this tends to promote intellectual passivity; (b) prevent students from really experiencing the subject; and (c) promote poor retention, a problem that is especially pronounced during longer lectures. …

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