Stop bashing the Lecture

When did the anti-lecture trend begin? It seems to have been around for a long time. I’m sure the internal discussion has been around for an even longer time but the outwardly loud anti-lecture discussion has at least been going on for the last two decades (this is just my feeling and experience).

So its hardly surprising then to read yet another article joining in the lecture-bashing trend and Science writes Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds.

Interestingly, the article included the quote

“This is a really important article—the impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data,” says Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University who has campaigned against stale lecturing techniques for 27 years and was not involved in the work. “It’s good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis—an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.”

When I tweeted out the link a colleague sent me this link to a quote in Paul Ramsden Learning to Teach in Higher Education “Despite the firmness of the lecture’s foothold, the best general advice to the teacher who wants to improve his or her lecturing is still ‘Don’t lecture’ (Eble, 1988, p. 68).” So almost two decades later, a world of new technology has evolved and the best thing we can do is still to say don’t lecture?

From my perspective there are two problems with the whole lecture-bashing argument. The primary flaw is the way in which the argument generalizes all lectures and lecturers. While I hate the comparison with actors, or even worse, stand up comedians it is important to remember a lecturers delivery style varies as much as these professions do. I am aware of the studies that exist (and we should all be able to recognize their strengths and flaws) but I find the statement “all lectures are bad” is similar to “all sport is boring”. This is a statement of taste not of fact.

communication age by Dom Dada cc by nc nd

communication age by Dom Dada cc by nc nd

The reason why I consider this taste as opposed to fact is connected to the second problem in the lecture-bashing argument. And this is that it ignores the responsibility of the learners (as opposed to the teachers). If a student is working full time on a topic then the amount of time they are spending is 40 hours a week. This is obviously not happening but lets be nice and say that they “should” spend at least half their time on a full time course.

This still means four hours a day, five days a week. Seriously not a lot. Then the question is how many lectures is the student “enduring”? Supposing there are three two-hour lectures a week. This means 6 hours a week. And it still means that their are 14 hours a week the student should be working. Again this is only working with the idea of a half time job.

The lecture is not reading the book for the students, the lecture is not teaching everything the student needs, the lecture is not the message (sorry really bad pun). From my experience lectures work well when they highlight the important issues for an audience that cares (or at the very least knows) about the topic. But this means that the students cannot just crawl out of bed and attend a lecture on a topic they know nothing about and then expect to be enriched by it. They need to do their part.

The problem is that the lecture-bashing argument is letting the students off the hook. If the students are not learning from, or being bored by, the lecture then obviously the lecture is the problem. I find that this perspective demeans and infantalizes the student.


schlemiel or schlemihl or shlemiel

One of the main benefits of the web is the mass of totally meaningless information that is just waiting to be discovered. It could be used for amusement, procrastination or actual meaningful use (whatever that is…)

A fantastic resource is the old fashioned A.Word.A.Day mailing list administered by Anu Garg. It’s a daily email with an interesting word, with its background, meaning, etymology, pronounciation and more. Just check out some excerpts from the information about today’s word: schlemiel

noun: An inept, clumsy person: a habitual bungler.
From Yiddish shlemil, from Hebrew Shelumiel, a Biblical and Talmudic figure who met an unhappy end, according to the Talmud. Earliest documented use: 1892.
No discussion of schlemiel would be complete without mentioning schlimazel, one prone to having bad luck. In a restaurant, a schlemiel is the waiter who spills soup, and a schlimazel is the diner on whom it lands.
What’s not to love?

My top 20 non-fiction

OK, so I should be writing but I needs a break and this seems like a worthwhile attempt at procrastination…

Every time someone dares to create a canon they are naturally shot down. But at the same time I really want to list the 20  non-fiction books a well rounded person should read. A list like this can never be complete and I would really appreciate any and all tips on books which should be included:

Richard DawkinsThe Greatest Show on Earth: The evidence for evolution

Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion

Bill BrysonA Short History of Nearly Everything

Rainer Maria RilkeLetters to a Young Poet

Karen ArmstrongA History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam

David BollierSilent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth

George MonbiotBring on the Apocalypse: Six Arguments for Global Justice

George MonbiotThe Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order

John PilgerFreedom Next Time

Fredrick SchauerFree Speech: A philosophical inquiry

Rupert SmithThe Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World

John GribbinScience: A History 1543-2001

Vandana ShivaWater Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit

Vandana ShivaProtect or Plunder?: Understanding Intellectual Property Rights

Ronald DworkinTaking Rights Seriously

Neil PostmanTechnopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology

Okakura KakuzoThe Book of Tea

Amartya SenThe Idea of Justice

Peter SingerAnimal Liberation

John Stuart MillOn Liberty

The importance of failure

Via Boing Boing I came across J.K. Rowling’s Commencement Address at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association. Her address was entitled The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination (online with video here).

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

We focus much too often on success, believing that it will teach us something we study success. Unfortunately we are too quick to ignore failure, despite the fact that failure would probably teach us more. Even on a personal level failure teaches us more than success. We learn more from unpleasantness.

Photo: band – failure is not an option by Leo Reynolds (CC by-nc-sa)

How to take notes

Study Hacks is a cool blog aimed at students which has lots of study tips which are useful for everyone.  Today they have a great list of tips for taking notes. This is must read stuff…

A Study Hacks Crash Course on Smart Note-Taking

Why Most Students Don’t Understand the Real Goal of Note-Taking
A classic article from the early days of Study Hacks. It lays out my core philosophy on how to take notes well. You can use its “Three Laws of Reduced Study Time Note-Taking” as a general framework for the construction of your own customized note solution.

Part 2 in 60 Seconds or Less (or, The Q/E/C Note-Taking Method)
Another classic article. It summarizes the main philosophy driving Part 2 — Quizzes & Exams — of my book How to Become a Straight-A Student. What makes it relevant to this post is that it describes the famed Question/Evidence/Conclusion note-taking system that I first introduced in my book and now reference all the time here on Study Hacks.

Accelerate Q/E/C Note-Taking
A technical article that describes how to use Word short-cuts to accelerate Question/Evidence/Conclusion note-taking on your laptop.

Rapid Note-Taking With the Morse Code Method
A steamlined note-taking variant for long reading assignments that need to be completed in a short amount of time.

The Art of Pseudo-Skimming
An even more streamlined note-taking approach for articles that only need to be reviewed, not mastered, before class.

How to Read Hard Readings
This post introduces “strategic pre-processing” as a technique for conquering outrageously dense and complicated reading assignments.

How to Take Notes on Power Point Slides
Technical tips for taking efficient notes on lectures that are driven by Power Point slides. Take a look at the readers’ comments, which introduce some interesting twists on my advice.