Recently, I facilitated a workshop on engaged lecturing for UVU faculty. I tried to emphasize that lecturing is a pedagogical tool that when used appropriately can be highly effective. One the other hand, lecturing can be grossly ineffective on student lecturing if it is the sole method of instruction. Today I stumbled upon a blog post that adds insight to the lecture debate. The post is title Beyond the Lecturing Debate by Paul T. Corrigan:
I consider all of the following propositions accurate:
- Lecturing represents a time-honored tradition of passing on knowledge through speech.
- Lecturing gets in the way of learning, big time.
- Lecturing serves as a convenient punching bag for advocates of other approaches.
- Nothing would benefit higher education more than for more teachers to give up lecturing as much as they do and explore other approaches.
- Lecturing—as one tool among many—can be practiced well or poorly and serves some purposes better other than others.
- Lecturing as a subject of debate offers an opportunity to clarify some things about teaching.
- There is no such thing as lecturing. There are many different things that get lumped together under that one term.
If these statements appear contradictory, that may be less because they are than because we often hear only the pro- and anti- positions in debates about lecturing. Recently, I voiced a more nuanced perspective inTheAtlantic.com (“To Lecture or Not To Lecture?“) and on Wisconsin Public Radio (“Lecture When It Works, Don’t Lecture When It Doesn’t“). The purpose of this post is to share those two items and add a few comments. (I almost titled this post “Ten Things I Wish I Said on the Radio.”)
In the essay in TheAtlantic.com, I put forth that we ought to consider method in light of context—that is to say, purpose, limitations, implementation, and evidence. Such a view by no means originates with me. In the same spirit, for instance, G. Gibbs writes, “there is far more lecturing going on than can reasonably be justified by the evidence concerning the efficiency of lectures, especially bearing in mind the nature of the educational goals we claim to be striving for.” It is the ongoing misunderstanding and misuse of lecturing that justify continued discussion.
While lecturing may not have an inherent problem, it certainly does have a historical one. Because it has been the default method for so many for so long, it has been used unreflectively and poorly more than any other approach. One could imagine the small group discussion or the online discussion forum eventually getting to the same place.
To avoid talking at cross purposes, as often happens in debates about lecturing, I propose we distinguish between lecturing (with a lower case l) and Lecturing (with a capital L). The one represents a method, the other an entire approach. The one represents a brick, the other an entire building made only of bricks. Some who lecture do so on occasion and on purpose. Others lecture as if lecturing were synonymous with teaching. They Lecture. Unreflectively, regularly, and at length.
The difference does not have to do with lecturing ability, with charisma, or with the selection, organization, and presentation of material. I’m not distinguishing between lecturing poorly and lecturing effectively. I’m distinguishing between a tool that can be used for teaching and a way of teaching that, in effect if not in intent, makes that tool a purpose unto itself. A mediocre lecturer may, with intentionality, deliver a lecture that gives students just what they need at just the right moment. Inversely, a captivating lecturer may, without intentionality, deliver lecture upon lecture that accomplish little.
While lecturing may suit a range of pedagogical purposes, Lecturing suits itself. Of course, we would be hard put to draw a precise line separating the two. But we might imagine lecturing/Lecturing lying along a continuum. The trick is to not trick ourselves into thinking we are only lecturing when a more objective observer would find us actually Lecturing.
The rest of the post can be found here.