Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Is the lecture dead, or just undead?

Molly Worthen wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, titled "Lecture Me. Really", which discusses recent research on the lecture format, the push from STEM disciplines to reduce lecturing in favor for active learning, and a solid argument for why lectures are important and relevant. One passage really struck me.
Listening continuously and taking notes for an hour is an unusual cognitive experience for most young people. Professors should embrace — and even advertise — lecture courses as an exercise in mindfulness and attention building, a mental workout that counteracts the junk food of nonstop social media.
Teaching mathematics quite a bit of my course material is computational and skill based; Find the derivative of this polynomial. A good chunk of the other part is conceptual; When the derivative equals -1 at this value of x what does that mean for the function? Applications makeup the rest: What is the velocity of the ball at this time? All three of these parts of my curriculum speak to each other, and inform how to go about each type of task. Usually I do present or lecture over an example, but I have students try these things out on their own in class.

When short, quick messages and responses are the expectation we lose the ability to think and speak in big ideas. We forget how to piece all these small parts together and reason with them. This synthesis is what we need today more than ever. To use a cliche, the world is only growing more interconnected and we need to pull from myriad disciplines to make sense of it. By modeling this skill of building and connecting ideas we show students a mature and connected way of looking at the world.

I wonder though if I should try lecturing a bit more to model exactly this kind connection building. What do you think? Do you lecture? Did you hate lectures as an undergrad? Did you enjoy them? What about in graduate school? I'd love to hear your thoughts.