Lecturing remains the staple of college classes despite evidence that it is the least effective method of instruction. Recently, some professors have banned laptops, which has forced students to take notes the old -fashioned way by handwriting (“I’d Be an ‘A’ Student if I Could Just Read my Notes,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 13). Professors see this as a victory for engagement. I see it differently.
Students are complaining about the change – except for the wrong reasons. What they should be doing instead is questioning lecturing itself. I say that because lecturing confuses telling with teaching. Lecturing essentially reduces students to stenographers. Whether they do so by cursive or by laptop is beside the point. Real learning requires active responses by students. Students learn by doing. Lecturing does just the opposite, forcing them to be passive.
If the goal is to develop critical thinking skills, lecturing by its very nature undermines that objective. How can students be expected to think about material being presented if they are focused exclusively on taking notes in one form or another? The truth is that most professors are woefully ignorant about pedagogy. They certainly know their subject matter because of their advanced degrees and numerous publications. But they don’t know how to impart their expertise other than by lecturing.
All teachers have certain instructional objectives in mind. These overwhelmingly incorporate the most important material that they want their students to learn. But they have not given much – if any – thought to how their students will demonstrate mastery. The usual way is by a mid-term and a final exam. But these instruments come too late in the school semester to provide feedback to professors. It would be far better if they designed their instruction to give students the opportunity to exhibit their learning on an on-going basis. Yet I remain extremely pessimistic. Professors see little to be gained by breaking with tradition. Let’s not forget that exemplary teaching is given little weight when it comes to granting tenure.
(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)