Engaging Lectures

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:

  1. Lecturing represents a time-honored tradition of passing on knowledge through speech.
  2. Lecturing gets in the way of learning, big time.
  3. Lecturing serves as a convenient punching bag for advocates of other approaches.
  4. Nothing would benefit higher education more than for more teachers to give up lecturing as much as they do and explore other approaches.
  5. Lecturing—as one tool among many—can be practiced well or poorly and serves some purposes better other than others.
  6. Lecturing as a subject of debate offers an opportunity to clarify some things about teaching.
  7. 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.

lecturing / Lecturing continuum

The rest of the post can be found here.

Trevor Morris

February 20, 2014 by Trevor Morris

6 Steps to Your Teaching into Scholarship

In thinking about coming up with an Engaged Teaching and Learning Proposal Dr. Donna Qualters offers these six steps to turn your teaching into scholarship:

Step 1: Identify a possible project through reflection. We ALL do something particularly well in our teaching. Take a minute and write down what YOU do well. Don’t be shy; this is a time to begin to own your success. Next reflect on your students from the past year, did you notice anything different about their approaches to the classroom, their learning, or the subject that made you pause or create a new challenge you did not have before? This exercise is often most successful if you debrief with colleagues you feel comfortable with.

Step 2: Choose a topic and generate your research questions. Look back on your previous writing, think about conversations you’ve had with colleagues, and begin to conceptualize what you want to study that addresses either the goal approach (something you do well) or the issue approach (a specific challenge). I like Pat Hutchings’ approach, she asks, “What works? What is! Vision of the possible. Vision of the future!” As you begin your research, ask yourself, what is the vision of the possible and what is the vision of the future? Keep in mind the topic should be doable within the realm of your current teaching assignments, have the necessary resources, and be something you can complete in a timely manner. After you have generated your questions, ask a colleague to review them to clarify the meaning.

Step 3: Look at the literature. You can, of course, look at the education literature on teaching and learning, BUT you can also look at your discipline’s journals. Many disciplines have wonderful SoTL articles in the field. For example, the business literature is filled with information on teamwork and managing discussions. Ask for assistance, teaching center personnel and librarians would be delighted to point you in the right direction.

Step 4: Find the right context. Before you begin to design the study, seek out a few journals that might be interested in your questions and look at their author guidelines. Kennesaw State has put together a list of the major journals in annotated form. (http://cetl.kennesaw.edu/teaching-journals-directory)

Step 5: Design the study. A primary rule of SoTL is to use your discipline-based methods first. Most SoTL articles use a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, so whatever mode you feel most comfortable in should be your starting point. Meaningful SoTL involves many approaches from action research, to case studies, to quasi-experimental design to phenomenological studies to the occasional controlled study. For quantitative data consider using scales, tests, Likert scale surveys, or student grades. For more qualitative data consider interviews, observations, open-ended questions, and focus groups.

Step 6: Write the article. This is where SoTL often differentiates from traditional scholarship. Here again, reflection is the key. Not only do you report results but you write about what you learned and the insights you gleaned from your specific study that can be applied to the general approach to teaching. For example, an article of mine on studying students who went from a passive lecture model to a more active learning pedagogy presented lessons learned and provided guidelines and suggestions for any teacher who was considering a major shift in style.

One final point, like any research there are ethical concerns to consider when undertaking this type of research. It is wise to check with your institution’s review board to find out its process for initiating SoTL studies.

With a bit of reflection, you can contribute to the scholarship of teaching and learning to help us all be better teachers.


-Ursula Sorensen

September 19, 2013 by Trevor Morris

Student Resistance in a Flipped Classroom

Student resistance to active learning is well documented. Getting students to take a more active role in their learning can be challenging. It doesn’t matter which technique you are trying to implement to enhance student learning. Some students just won’t like it. Penne Restrad penned an essay in today’s Faculty Focus titled “I Don’t Like This One Little Bit.” Tales from a Flipped Classroom that illustrates this point. In a flipped classroom, students take on the ownership of their learning. Rather than passive recipients, students take an active role in learning. Students are expected to do assigned reading, viewing PowerPoints, or lecture notes outside of class to learn basic concepts. Class time isn’t spent on lecturing. If professors lecture over the same material students read, students will stop preparing outside of class because the professor will cover it in class. Instead class time is spent working in groups on activities to help foster deeper learning. Restrad points out that the benefits of a flipped classroom out weigh drawbacks like students resistance. Restard argues that the benefits of a flipped classroom include students taking a greater responsibility for learning, working with an expert in the discipline (the professor), learning critical thinking, developing communication skills, and a greater appreciation for the subject. If you implement an active learning technique in your classroom, be prepared for possible student resistance. However, remember that there are considerable benefits to a flipped classroom and discuss these benefits with your students. 


Restad, P. (2013, July 22). “I don’t like this one little bit.” Tales from a flipped Classroom. Faculty Focus. 


July 22, 2013 by Trevor Morris

Group Work

There are many ways to include group work in a given course. Variations of projects can be done in order for students to collaborate and create what we hope to be a masterpiece that could not be achieved when only assigned individually. In the June/July 2013 issue of The Teaching Professor there is an article titled “Improving Group Projects.” As the title states, this article has suggestions that will help improve the effectiveness of group projects.

The suggestions given are:

Emphasize the importance of team-work
Teach teamwork skills
Use team-building exercises to build cohesive groups
Thoughtfully consider group formation
Make the workload reasonable and the goals clear
Consider roles for group members
Provide some class time for meetings
Request interim reports and group process feedback
Require individual members to keep track of their contributions
Include peer assessment in the evaluation process

When the items suggested are incorporated to the assignment for the students, the project becomes more valuable and important to them. They are able to more fully understand the importance of teamwork and the group project that has been given to them. This also teaches more responsibility as well as the practical application to how teams interact in the workforce. In the end, this kind of group work teaches the skills to succeed in further group work whether in another class or at a job.

June 4, 2013 by Trevor Morris

The Curse of Knowledge

Every professors has faced this question; why do my students not understand such an obvious concept? Anton and Ursula presented an excellent workshop at Professional and Organizational Development Conference that can help faculty understand why. First, our students are not us. We have a special knowledge in our expertise in our field. Elizabeth Newton demonstrated the curse of knowledge in a 1990 study. Participants in her study formed dyads. One participant was a “tapper” and the other participant was a “listener”. The tapper was to tap out the rhythm of a well known song and the listener was to guess what the song was. Before tapping out the songs, the tapper predicted how many songs the listener would correctly guess. The tappers predicted the listeners would get 50% of the songs correct; that is 1 in 2 songs. The participants grossly overestimated. The listeners got only 1 out 40 songs correct. The tappers had a natural reaction; How could the listeners not get such an easy song? It is a temptation to ask, as many of the tappers did, how could the listeners be so stupid. Everyone has heard Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It is obvious what I am tapping.

This brings me to a second point. The question “how could the listeners be so stupid” leads to an error. In fact, psychologists call it the fundamental attribution error. Humans make attributions, or judgments, about why other people behavior certain ways. Humans can make an external attribution; something from the environment is responsible the person’s behavior. For example, you talk to your friend Sally in the hall; She is sad and distracted. She tells you she just learned her mother has cancer. Thus, the sadness is caused by an external factor – learning her mother has cancer. Or humans can make an internal attribution, an internal characteristic or trait about another person. You noticed Sally is sad; therefore, you could make an internal attribution and assume she has depression. Quite often the internal attribution is incorrect; thus, the term fundamental attribution error. For a professor, implication is important for understanding student behavior. Why did this student not read, or why did this student turn in subpar work? Professors might be tempted to think the student is lazy or too stupid for this class. This would be engaging in the fundamental error, much like the flabbergasted tappers in the experiment above. Faculty developers have noted the importance of considering situational variables students when designing a course. It might be wise to also consider situational factors when students perform poorly on exams or assignments; it might also help professors to think of adaptive solution for helping students perform better in the classes rather than dismissing students as lazy or stupid.

October 26, 2012 by Trevor Morris

Community Engagement

In 2008, UVU received the Carnegie Foundation classification as an engaged university. Part of our mission is help students understand how their classes are relevant to their lives and how the can use what they have learned to help improve their communities. A high school from Bronx New York did just that. The school found a way to apply multidisciplinary subjects to the community to inspire learning and see the relevance of learning in their lives. I’ll give you two examples. First, Students canoed down the Bronx river to gather data for scientific analysis to study ecology. Second, students had to learn to how to deal with rising water levels due to climate change. The students developed potential solutions to those problems. UVU has resources for professors to develop and fund engaged learning projects in GEL grants or maybe service learning. Another project that might interest professors is the university project. This is a campus wide, multidisciplinary effort to tackle community problems. This year the university project is focusing on increasing literacy and numeracy in our local community.

May 25, 2012 by Trevor Morris

Growth Mindsets in Action

The Scientific American has a blog post that nicely illustrates the benefits of a growth mindset. The author of the post, Andrea Kuszewski, describes the differing views intelligence and how a growth mindset gave have a significant impact on people. She reported of a case she had with an autistic child with an IQ of 80. After three years of training and hard work, the child’s IQ was retest at 100, which is considered a normal IQ. That is a significant jump in a IQ scores.

The blog illustrates the best way to live up to one’s cognitive potential, especially as one ages. She resolves some common misconception about intelligence as one ages, such as, that the game Sudoku is good way ward off cognitive decline. Sudoku is not the reason, per se, for the cognitive benefit; it’s the challenging activities that is the reason for the buffer against the cognitive decline. So, if once you become proficient at Sudoku, switch to another challenging activity like the New York Times Crossword puzzle.

May 10, 2012 by Trevor Morris

So You Think You Know How To Study?

I’ll admit it. I have done this and I’m not proud of it. I think we all have committed this fatal sin while studying for school during our educational experience. It is an all to common study strategy that isn’t very effective. What is this ineffective strategy I am talking about? It’s rereading. According to cognitive psychologists Daniel Willingham on his blog title Students Should Be Taught How To Study, rereading the chapter and notes (and I would add powerpoints) from class are students number 1 study strategy. The problem is that this strategy is very effective. One of the most effective study techniques is self-testing as noted in this APA article title Study SmartTesting (or any learning activity that promotes practice and repetition) itself is learning activity that can help promote retention and recall. The critical keys here are practice and repetition with the material. Unfortunately not all students are motivated to self-test. In fact, many students will resist this. But students who are willing to self-test will be doing themselves a huge favor.

March 27, 2012 by Trevor Morris

Be Engaged

The Washington Post published an article on February 15th titled, “Colleges Looking Beyond the Lecture.” Big lecture classes seem to be a thing of the past as classes evolve into more hands on learning. The focus is shifting away from what is being taught by the professor to what is being learned by the students. Not only can students attend a class at a university, but anyone can watch lectures online. Jane Greco is quoted about a goal, “to separate out what you’re getting in our classroom that you can’t get online.” There are countless ways to get the students active in the classroom rather than mindlessly sitting there listening to the professor speak the entire time.

UVU is a place of engaged learning. Looking at what that means, I looked on UVU’s website which mentions, “engaged learning implies that graduates should leave UVU with a diploma in one hand and a resume in the other… to that end, UVU’s curriculum teaches the ‘how’ and ‘why’ in conjunction with the ‘what’ and ‘who.’” Teaching in this fashion gives students the added edge to succeed in the competitive business world. Getting students involved can vary from serving the community to classroom discussions. Nothing is too big or too small in getting students to learn the real-world application. Be creative, and have fun with it. If you would like ideas, feel free to contact the faculty center or request a SCOT (student consultant).


March 1, 2012 by Trevor Morris

Democracy in the Classroom

The UVU Review had an article titled “Classroom democracy doesn’t work” in the January 23, 2012 edition of the paper (volume LII, Issue 19). This article talks about how there are some professors who leave it up to the students to decide how the class is run. This can vary from the type of tests the students take, how many assignments, whether group projects are involved, to the exact material that is discussed. The article argues that professors should not do this in lower division courses, but that it is more acceptable in upper division.

I can understand this student standpoint, mainly because I have seen negative experiences with professors not giving enough direction. However, looking at creating a learner-centered teaching style, we can find an efficient way to encourage students to be more involved with their education. The following paragraphs discuss the benefits, and ways to incorporate learner-centered teaching into the classroom.

What are the benefits of learner-centered teaching? In my English class, we are discussing stakeholders. Who are the stakeholders in a class? The answer is easy, the professor and the students. This can be taken further; UVU is a stakeholder because their reputation is on the line. The community is a stakeholder because the students are the future professionals, which also affects the economy. But let’s focus down to the professor, students, and the atmosphere that is created. Weimer, author of Learner-Centered Teaching, discusses these three areas in more detail. First, Weimer says, “If students are engaged, involved, and connected with a course, they are motivated to work harder in that course” (31). Getting students involved can be difficult, especially in an introductory course that they don’t really want to be in. The student may not see the relevance as to why they need to take the given course. Allowing them to take part in the decision-making process assists them in a positive experience. In turn, this can help them see application to the real world. It then goes on to say, “Power sharing also benefits teachers. You no longer struggle with passive, uninterested, disconnected students” (31). The students become engaged in the class. They want to be involved and connected to what is taking place. It allows them to feel important to the process and allows for them to find their voice. Think for a moment on the best and worse teaching experiences you have had. Why was it the best or worst? My guess is that it has a lot to do with the student’s participation. Teaching can’t really happen if the students are not opening themselves up. When students are involved, the whole atmosphere of the classroom changes. “There is a much stronger sense that the class belongs to everyone. When something is ineffective, students are much more willing than in the past to help [the professor] fix it” (31). This all sounds great, right? The students feel more important to the professor, which gives them a better sense of respect towards them. They also feel respected and not looked down on. And, the professor feels productive due to a more engaged environment.

Finding this balance may be difficult at first. There are many ways to share the power with students. When choosing what types of decisions are shared with students, it is important to look at what the end purpose is. Usually the end purpose is students learning certain information, or gaining certain skills. The goal would then be to give students power that, no matter what their decision is, the end goal is still met. Weimer states, “Faculty still make key decisions about learning, but they no longer make all decisions and not always without student input” (28). An example is given about being in an introductory course and not allowing the students to choose what textbook is used. The students need more experience before making such large decisions. However, the professor may have a few textbooks that all fit the criteria and may discuss the options with the students. From there, the professor and students would discuss the options openly and decide on one together.

In one of my classes, we were going to be writing an exploratory/analysis paper. We were discussing the importance of building our writing skills to be able to take it with us into our careers. The choice was then given to us to stick with the original plan or switch to a memo format. This was a great way for us to practice a form of writing that would be used in our professional lives. The end result is still the same, we are learning to think critically, and the same amount of research is still being done.

The choice is yours to find what way works best for you to get the students involved. Many more resources can be found in making the decision. Be “that” teacher. “That” teacher where the students want to be in the class, they are excited to contribute. A difference can be made.

Boyce, John-Ross. “Classroom Democracy Doesn’t Work.” UVU Review 23 Jan. 2012, volume LII ed., Opinions sec. Print.
Weimer, Maryellen. “The Balance of Power.” Learner-Centered Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002. 23-45. Print.
February 4, 2012 by Trevor Morris