Monday, January 2, 2012

Don't Lecture Me!

The flipped classroom has gotten a good deal of press.  The Khan Academy in particular has popularized the idea of flipping the lecture out of real time and placing it online in video format as homework.  This approach frees up teaching time for hands on work, group discussion and individualized tutoring. In short, it gets teachers out from behind the lectern and into direct interactions with their students. 

Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool by Emily Hanford interviews Eric Mazur a lauded master teacher of Physics at Harvard and MIT.  Mazur states that the key is to get students to do the assigned reading (the information flow) before they come to class.  He then talks about how he teaches huge classes without resorting to traditional lecture techniques.

As this article will explain, the ineffectiveness of the 'Lecture' and the realization that students learn by discussion and interaction isn't new. Mazur has been doing this for 20 years. Indeed, it has been well established that the ancient mode of lecture just isn't effective for the vast majority of students.  (Also see in this blog: Confessions of a Converted Lecturer: Eric Mazur)

Once faculty make peace with the changing role of teacher (from lecturer to coach) students learn more.  

This is a hard transition that many traditional lecturers are not willing to make. This is also reason why traditionalist lecturers have difficulty with online teaching. Far too many college instructors assume that just putting up video of their lectures along with writing assignments and tests will work. (We know it won't.)

Unlike k-12 teachers who have a deep understanding of how students learn, many college lecturers are not trained educators. Many lecturers are hired for their content expertise, not their teaching skills. They teach as they were taught, via lecture. This perpetuates a flawed method long proven to be ineffective. (For more on effectiveness of the lecture method see Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing.)

In an online environment refined teaching skills are essential. Online teachers must use the technology to personally connect with each of their students.  The remote sage on the stage just doesn't work in modern e-learning environments.  Learning comes from interaction with a community of learners and facilitators.

Online or face to face, educators must promote discussion, hands on engagement, and digital manipulation of ideas if they want more learning in their classes.

For more reporting on this topic see:  Don't Lecture Me!


  1. Dennis, I have to be honest and say I'm confused by this entry. Aren't the Khan videos nothing more than recorded lectures? Sure they have the ability to be viewed at the students' convenience, with all of the affordances of a recording (i.e., you can pause it, rewind it, watch it again and again). But at the heart of the pedagogy employed, it is direct instruction - plain and simple.

    How is this a flipped classroom? How is this changing the role of the teacher from lecturer to coach? Why, if meta-analysis of pedagogical strategies continue to find that lecture and direct instruction are useful tools in helping students learn, do we continue to diss it in favour of unproven alternatives?

    Some difficult questions that I've never seen good answers to - from anyone I've asked.

  2. Michael,

    Making the lecture homework is step 1. The Khan Academy provides solid analytics on how each student is doing. You can differentiate the 'lecture' so that each student is working at their own level.

    When the teacher is in class, rather than delivering one lesson to everyone, they can work with the data from the system to group and coach kids on the issues where they are having trouble.

    This is the essence of the flip. Kids work with the teacher in groups or one on one. The time spent delivering a lesson is done at home (and individualized to user needs).

    Even though the lecture has been 'flipped' I think it is still the weak link. Students who just 'watch' the videos will have the same problem learning that they do is they are just watching a lecture.

    The videos are short and specific. They are backed up with online testing and quick feedback so a student can get quicker corrections and make faster progress than they'd typically do with rote homework.

    The real change comes in the classroom. When a teacher gives up lecture time, they can get more time to be creative and effective with teaching methods that work so much better than lecture.

    This quote from Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing shows how long we've known the ineffectiveness of lecture. "Bligh (1972) could not track down a single study which found lecturing to be more effective than another method for the promotion of thought. He identified 21 studies which found lecturing to be less effective than: discussion, reading, individual work in class and so on. The evidence on the weakness of lectures to achieve this goal is devastating. Bloom (1953) found that during lectures students' thought involved attempting to solve problems, or synthesise or inter-relate information for only 1% of the time, while 78% of the lecture was spent in"passive thoughts about the subject" and "irrelevant thoughts". Bligh concludes: "The best way to learn to solve problems is to be given problems that have to be solved. The best way to 'awaken critical skills' is to practise using the canons of criticism."

    As I see it, The Khan Academy is a very useful free tool that will help teachers be more effective in the classroom. The technology is new, the idea isn't.


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