Richard G. Jones, Jr.
Scholar, Educator, Author


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To Lecture or Not to Lecture? It Depends…

Jan 28, 2014

Voodoo Economics

Lecturing as a method of content delivery has long been established in higher education. As models of instruction have become more team- and activity-oriented in K-12 classrooms, students coming into college now may be discomfited by the wall of words they hit.

Stripper poleI was prompted to write this blog entry after hearing a fellow basic course director make the following claim: "Lecturing is the equivalent of academic pole-dancing." So, does this mean that college professors and instructors who lecture use it to be the "center of attention" and/or as a shield meant to deflect students' questions or challenges while simultaneously hiding the lecturers own insecurity? Well, probably not, but it was still fun to see how far we could take that analogy.

Much research has been done comparing lecturing with other teaching methods.[i] So, when should we lecture? When should we not lecture? How can we improve lectures?

Cons of Lecturing

  1. Lecturing does not help students retain information at the end of a course as well as other methods (like discussion)
  2. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in helping students transfer knowledge to new situations
  3. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in developing problem solving kills
  4. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in motivating students for further learning

A cat looking bored

Pros of Lecturing

  1. Lecturing can be used to present up-to-date information that may not be included in textbooks
  2. Lecturing can summarize material scattered over a variety of sources
  3. Lecturing can help students read more effectively by orienting students to new material and providing a conceptual framework
  4. Lecturing can focus student attention on key content

Tips for Effective Lectures

  1. Put content that you are excited about in lectures.
  2. Move around to engage the audience; don’t get stuck behind a lectern or computer.
  3. Actually write out examples; don’t expect them to “come to you” as you lecture.
  4. Include notes to yourself to stop and ask for questions or pose a direct question to the audience.
  5. Start the lecture by connecting to something the audience has already learned, and then say what this lecture will add to their knowledge and how it fits into what will be learned later in the class.
  6. Do not lecture for more than twenty minutes without breaking it up with something more interactive.

[i] Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie, McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 13th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011): 55–71.