Education: Higher Education Teaching Methods

Randy Black writes The very best class I recall from Texas Tech was conducted by a graduate student who picked a short book named Twisted Tales from Shakespeare (by Richard Armour) as the study text for the course on the Bard. The humorous views of the writer of the book regarding the various plays kept us all attentive and talking about that class for years. Humor made an otherwise fairly dull topic interesting, I always thought, and still does, 36 years after that class.
The contrary ‘bad’ course was a class held in the largest lecture hall on campus for 750 students who were expected to learn about the American Revolution from a professor who appeared tiny, tiny, tiny from 50 yards distance in that huge auditorium, and who droned on and on in the semi-darkened room, the lights turned down so that we could see his slides. Further adding to the boredom was that the class came at 1:30 p.m., after lunch for most, thus we were able to catch a few winks.

RH: Professors resort to various stratagems to keep students awake. One performed the assassination of Lincoln regularly. I wonder what Southern students felt about the show?

Justin Carreno writes:  The majority of a college lecture (not to be confused with a discussion or laboratory) is about passing information, rather than thought, to the student. In an extreme view one might say do away with the lecture and even do away with the university. Why not the professor just email the notes to the student, the student reviews, studies, and applies thought to the notes and associated text (which rarely can be accomplished in an hour-long lecture), and if the student has questions email the professor and/or set up a meeting to discuss questions.
In America there is a lot of focus on class attendance/participation. Is this because the instructor doesn't think the student is serious unless hr goes to every lecture and participates? Although true for some students, for many this is not the case. The student is paying A LOT of money for the instructor's service. If the student wishes not to attend class, it is his or her choice, and not up to the professor to judge how the individual spends his or her time.
Most of the time when I was in class, I felt like I was a court reporter. Save us all time by photocopying the notes, and letting us pick them up at our leisure. If I have a question, I'll go to your office hours. In reality there is no need for the lecture, unless it generates thought, which a student can do on his or her own time. Efficiency is severely compromised with the lecture, which compromise a student's and instructor's leisure time and work schedule, which are equally important in an individual's life. Discussion and laboratory classes, on the other hand, are integral because they cannot be simulated by the student.

RH:  In general I agree with this. However, the computer revolution is bringing in serious changes, and more are yet to come.

Kyle Ward answers  Justin Carreno's comments on Higher Education: For the most part I believe Justin Carreno and I agree about the use of lecturea in the college classroom setting.  All to often the stereotypical "boring" professor rambles on for 50 minutes with students writing down nothing more than information they could have found in any relevant textbook.  Unfortunately I believe that more times than not it is the level of student interest that makes a class interesting and not necessarily what any professor does, or does not, do.  Some of the best professors I have ever had were straight lecturers and some of the worst used group projects, class discussions, technology, etc.  The difference was that  was personally interested in the lecture classes because of  their content.  In the other classes the professor could have lit their hair on fire and I probably would have still had a hard time staying awake.

In terms of making students come to class I agree that it should be left up to the individual student if they want to make an effort, but I also feel that students are not paying for the professors' time but rather their expertise in specific areas. This means coming to class and hearing what they have to say and doing the assignments they have developed.  Although my judgment may be colored by the types of students I am use to seeing, I disagree with Mr. Carreno's estimation that students can motivate themselves to do research on their own, to read the right books and to come up with questions for the professor on their own time.  My university has a series of "self-paced" courses in which students who enroll are allowed to watch videos, do research and take tests on their own time.  Throughout the semester there is a content area professor whom they can then go and talk to if they have questions about the class or the topic.  Every semester we find that a very large percentage of these students either drop out or fail this course because they all wait until the last week to try and get all their work done.  As far as bringing up questions to their professor, rarely, if ever, do these instructors ever see students.  Unfortunately, for many students having to come to class and face a professor is the motivation they need to actually learn anything from the course.

Gene Franklin said:   As with mules, so with students: first you have to get their attention.  John Heelan comments:I found a useful technique for gaining attention in a rowdy lecture hall- it was do nothing!  Then, without speaking, start drawing, with my back to the audience, a huge, red dot in the middle of the visual aid- flipchart, OHP- and keep on drawing, making it bigger and bigger,  until the hubbub subsided. The curiosity of the students gradually overwhelmed their desire to chatter and beautiful silence reigned. {The bad news is that I had to choose something other than a huge dot for the next lecture- drawing nudes upside-down is a useful art if you can master it! :-))}


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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: December 5, 2004