by syaffolee

Mumbling into the Chalkboard

The Lecture System in Teaching Science is an essay pointing out the uselessness of lectures and the advantages for learning in discussion.

Discussion works out fairly well in graduate level courses, but I have mixed feelings about the undergraduate courses. I don’t think abolishing all lectures would be the answer–I learn in part by taking notes. Especially in chalkboard/whiteboard lectures, there’s something about the process of hearing, seeing, translating the material in my mind, and then writing it which helps lodge the information into my head.

I can tell you, though, what sort of lectures I despise–the PowerPoint lecture. PowerPoint works okay for a seminar where the speaker’s aim is to give the high points and the take home message. But a lecture where every slide is going to count in the final exam? No. Not even if the slides are copied for all the students. PowerPoint condones laziness on all sides: the professor drops a bunch of figures onto the slide with a click of a mouse and babbles the info he already knows without much forethought about how the audience is going to absorb the information; the students treat the slides as an extension of their textbook (which 90% of them won’t read anyway) and don’t bother to take notes because, look!, the prof isn’t writing anything down himself. I coped with such lectures by semi-transcribing the speech. I didn’t even bother looking at the pictures since I already knew I could scrounge out a copy somewhere.

The idea that a student reads material before class and then participates in a discussion to actually learn has merit. But I really don’t think this would work on huge groups as mentioned in the essay. Ten students, max. Because if most students are like me, only the loud mouths, know-it-alls, and teacher’s pets will be doing any discussing. Discussion is virtually impossible in settings where there are too many people to fit around a table. Instead, it’s more like a two- or three-way ping-pong match with lots of observers.