Slowly letting the lecture go

Jan 24 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Tis the time of year when deadlines and obligations clash together like waves in a storm. The students are back, grants are submitted, budgets are revised and lectures are.... being dealt with. For the 4th time I am teaching my primary undergrad class and for the 4th time I am making substantial changes.

I simply survived the first year, as most do when they take on a full course for the first time. That first year was a whirlwind for both myself and the students. It seemed that I have to pack every lecture with info so I could keep from ending early. 1 slide a minute? I had to make it nearly 1.5. I had no gauge of what the students could handle and I fed them with a fire hose.

In year two I made the course actually make some sense. Cut back a bit and spent more time going to the board. In year three I finally felt like I had tweaked it enough that the students were getting something out of it instead of just making it through.

But I'm tired of being frustrated by the inability of much of the class to grasp some core concepts - concepts that are repeated throughout the course. While I think part of that failure falls on them, there's no way I escape blame. No matter how clear I think I'm being, it's not getting through. Time for a new strategy. I've used this space before to get teaching advice and this year I'm doing my damnedest to get away from straight lecture.

It's been hard. Lecturing is safe and easy. It's what we are used to. In some ways it is what they expect. But it hasn't been working well for me. So I am implementing both clickers and Think-Pair-Share into my class. Yesterday's trial run was good and I kept the students engaged. The first day of class is hardly time to take the students' temperature, but it was a good start.

But most of all, using these strategies has forced me to evaluate every slide in my arsenal and ask "why are you here?" Some material has to go to make room for stopping the class for discussions, and it has made me look at each slide to wonder what it's purpose is, in a new light. This might be the most valuable part of changing my class style - hacking off the vestigial material from when I couldn't have enough stuffed in there.

At a time when I least need it, I've increased my workload this semester by virtue of making the change, but feeling far more satisfied with my class is rewarding in itself. Hopefully I can maintain my enthusiasm for this new source of late nights as the semester progresses.

12 responses so far

  • cackleofrad says:

    Cool! I'm doing much of the same. I think the students are getting it, but I am now having a hard time figuring out if I am challenging them enough.

  • Allyson says:

    Thanks for this. I'm in first-year survival mode and working with clickers and a bit of think-pair-share. I'm modifying my slides from someone who did the same thing, thank goodness, because I don't think I could cut enough ideas to make it work otherwise. Still talking too much in class...

  • proflikesubstance says:

    The first year is the worst. I actively felt sorry for those students at the time, because I knew I was barely making things coherent. Good luck and get through it. You'll have plenty of time to make amends to future students.

  • Jeramia says:

    The two things that have made the biggest difference in retention in my sophomore level classes are active learning (think pair share or working on problems in groups) and making my own thoughts on learning known to the students early in the class. Both strategies resulted in upticks in my evals (I did metacognition after 2 years, then added active learning 2 years later).

    The biggest concern, as always, is time commitment. My classes max out at 30, so I can try a number of things that help retention and engagement that just aren't possible in a 200 student lecture.

    This recent post by the Teaching Professor blog has some good suggestions for gauging *why* you are changing things around.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    As time went by, I moved to teaching less and less about less and less, so to speak. I am convinced that students are better off with good comprehension a few things as compared to vague comprehension of a lot of things.

  • Alex says:

    Slowly adopting new pedagogical tools is usually (though not always) better than rapid transformation. Besides the workload issue (complete overhaul is hard!), there's the risk of becoming an evangelist. Listening to some of the people who have adopted new teaching methods is like going to a born-again religious meeting. I use clickers, I use group activities, I tend to emphasize depth over breadth, but I try not to go around proclaiming that the adoption of clickers is the only way to experience the healing power of Christ.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Frankly, I chose to use clickers and TPS, mostly because they were activities I could get my head around and could implement without major changes. The re-evaluation of my slides is something that was probably long overdue anyway, but this has forced it.

  • whizbang says:

    I flipped all of my lectures last fall. It was more work than I anticipated, but I had a lot more fun in class. I also do not care if the students attend class. If they feel they can get the material through reading and the pre-recorded lectures, they don't have to come. They then can't whine if they don't do well, though (no sympathy from this bitch).

    We all really learn by working with the material in some way. For me, rewriting my notes every night worked well. For others, restructuring material, drawing stuff, etc worked. Engagement is the key whether that happens in the classroom or somewhere else.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    There were armies before there were universities. Successful armies have figured out how to instruct their members. See if you can get ahold of an Army Military Instruction Field Manual. I think the one you want is FM 21-6. Military instruction uses very little lecture time. If you know anyone in Army Reserve or Army National Guard, they will know what you want.

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