Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lectures selling students short: evidence from 'Science'


Academics will go to any length to defend the lecture (see twitter feed on my Don't lecture me! talk). No matter how much evidence there is to show that it is poor pedagogic practice, they resist the change. Even worse are those on the technology side in HE who ignore the arguments. They’re like those creationist scientists who have to reconcile empirical evidence with blind faith. In any case, here’s another study (yawn) that proves the obvious – lectures are selling students short.

Lectures v research-based instruction
In this study ‘Improved Learning in a Large-enrollment Physics Class’ by Deslauriers, Schelew & Wieman, from the University of British Columbia, lectures were compared with research-based instruction. The study was well designed with two large groups (n=267 n=271), one taught using an “experienced, highly-trained instructor” who taught using lectures, the other by a “trained but inexperienced instructor” using research-based instruction, based on cognitive science. Both taught an undergraduate physics course on electromagnetic waves with clearly identified learning objectives.

Higher attention, attendance & attainment
The results were astounding. Not only higher engagement and increased student attendance in the non-lecture group but a massive difference in attainment. To be precise, the ‘lectured’ group scored 41% on the test, the ‘interactive’ group 74%. Pretty strong medicine.

Conclusion
The excuse is HE that ‘we’ve always done it this way’ but if other areas of human endeavour were to take this attitude "in medicine we would still be bloodletting, in physics we would be trying to reach the moon with very large rubber bands" says Wieman. The evidence is overwhelming from Bligh to Mazur – lectures don’t work. So let’s cut to the quick here, we have an entire profession ‘lecturers’ whose job title and practice are deeply flawed. Show me a Professor of Education, especially a Professor of E-learning, who lectures, and I’ll show you a hypocrite who doesn’t read the research.

 Subscribe to RSS

6 Comments:

Blogger Dominik Lukeš said...

I started to comment with cautious agreement here but it got out of hand, so I made it into its own blog post: http://techczech.net/2012/01/22/putting-lectures-in-their-place-with-cautious-optimism.

The gist: lectures need to be put in their place but the cited paper doesn't provide enough evidence for the best way to do it.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

I alluded to the many bother studies that address your concerns. Bligh contains literally hundreds of studies and since then, we have had an avalanche of evidence that shows lectures to be ineffective in terms of attendance, motivation and, most importantly, learning (many aspects to this - understanding, critical thinking, retention etc). If we had a rash of evidence showing that lectures were superior to other forms of learning, I'd be impressed, but we don't. The botttom line is that this is an embedded practice that suits a lazy approach to teaching, by academics who are largely researchers and not teachers. What's odd is that such an inconvenient truth is deliberately ignored by people (not all) in HE institutions that define themselves by standards of research and evidence.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Cocky Asian said...

I think places where quality teachers or lecturers are short are going to lead the way in disrupting the traditional lectures... Innovation thrives best when you are forced to (what I suppose Edward De Dono would probably call provacation)... With such shortage, you are forced to look at alternate models that uses lecturers at a premium...

6:38 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

I hate to be the one to mention the obvious, Donald, but I have seen you giving lectures quite a few times. Why do you do it? I know that I have learned some useful things while watching you and listening to you talk, and you have inspired me on many such occasions to reflect, connect, and even to learn more stuff (I enjoyed a book you mentioned a couple of months ago, for example).
I believe that your lectures are far from useless. They are a very poor way to impart competence, for sure, and are pretty hopeless in even the simplish goal of providing declarative knowledge - only lazy and unreflective teachers think they do that effectively and I absolutely agree that they should never be the default method of teaching and certainly not the only one.
But, amongst other things, the deliberate act of attending a lecture, with other people , at least some of whose thoughts and purposes you may share or value, is quite important. It has ritual social meaning that goes beyond simple measurable learning outcomes and that relates to meaning-making and identity, affirmation of values and recognition of shared (or disparate) world views. Very much like the sermons that make up their ancestry, the content of most lectures is largely a token or a prayer, not (mostly) a direct means of learning. It's also not dissimilar to the difference between watching a film alone and watching the same film with an audience: even a quiet audience qualitatively changes the meaning and impact of what you are watching. Content and performance matters greatly, of course, but it is transformed by the co-presence of others.
When we take lectures away (as I have done for most of my teaching career) it is useful to find some other way of reintroducing that quasi-religious social element as, without it, we have little more than bare competence and sterile knowledge. I've not found an ideal solution yet, but social technologies in which dialogue and awareness of the presence of others is inherent and embedded (emphatically not separate discussion forums) can help a bit.

Jon

5:43 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Hi Jon
I have never argued against all lectures. There's a role for introductory talks on courses, inspiring lectures by people you admire and so on. These are largely single talks on a specific topic, not entire courses.

My critique is aimed at:
1. Lectures remaining the core pedagogic technique in HE.
2. Slabbing out lectures and regarding it as 'teaching'.
3. Conferences where academics simply read out a lecture (email it!)
4. Conferences where one has to sit for up to three days listening to lectures.

I give talks, not lectures, because people ask me. It's as simple as that. I have given dozens of talks at Universities because it's the only way of getting many academics engaged with the subject. My own view is that they are often literally trapped in this one pedagogic track and need to be literally de-railed. Almost everything I do is online, blogging, social media etc.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous gareth said...

I AM A LECTURER, AND ALTHOUGH STILL EARLY CAREER, THE WORD 'TEACHING' IS LIKE NAILS DOWN A CHALK BOARD - WE ARE NOT TEACHING IN ANYWAY WHEN PRODUCING MATERIAL FROM TEXTS OR PAPERS IN A DIDACTIC FASHION AND THEN POSING THE ODD QUESTION TO STUDENTS TO MAKE THE LECTURE 'INTERACTIVE'.

SO, I WOULD LIKE TO ADD THAT LECTURES ARE POOR MOST OF THE TIME, BUT HAVE THEIR USES, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY STUDENTS DO NOT LIKE THEM EITHER.

I JUST DID A PIECE OF RESEARCH ON LECTURE CAPTURING AND ITS POTENTIAL FOR INNOVATING LECTURE ENVIRONEMNTS IF USED INTELLIGNETLY, BUT FOR THE MOST PART STUDENTS DIDN'T USE THE PROVISIONS ANYWAY - BECAUSE IT WAS JUST A STRAIGHT RECORDING OF A LECTURE.

GREAT BLOG

9:46 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home