Post Script

Not surprisingly, my recent blog post is in good company with a lot of other commentary on the subjects of classroom lecture and active learning after Molly Worthen’s op ed last week. A few of note:

Some good discussion is taking place here and here on the listserv of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD). The crux of the conversation, which I think hits the nail on the head, is that to pit classroom lecture against active learning is a false dichotomy and creates a conflict that need not exist. Most of the educators commenting on that thread describe their methods as including both in peaceful co-existence. But, you know. Peaceful co-existence doesn’t make for a Times-worthy headline.

Josh Eyler has written a thoughtful response on his blog. Of particular interest to me is the research he pulls in to support the successes of active learning and the problems with lecture. I’m also glad he’s calling Worthen out on her snarkiness and raising the question of the value of experts, a topic which has my mind churning on a forthcoming blog post.

Derek Bruff’s article preceded Worthen’s and clearly names the problem as a definitional one:

Let’s be clear: According to the research, if your understanding of “lecture” involves engaging students in discussion and interaction during class, then you should keep lecturing. It’s “continuous exposition by the teacher” that’s the problem. My only advice would be to consider whether all of your students are learning actively, or just some. It’s easy to engage a few, harder to engage all.

He goes on to diffuse the polarizing us vs. them argument with a single, graceful note from Donald Bligh’s 2000 book What’s the Use of Lectures?. Bruff quotes:

Lectures are as good as other methods at transmitting information, but lectures are generally not effective at promoting thought, changing attitudes, inspiring interest, or teaching skills.

And, Bruff reminds us, “It needs to be clear that the nothing-but-lecture approach is not supported by the research.” It’s worth noting than an active-learning-only approach is, similarly, unsupported.

I appreciate the questions I’ve gotten from educators in the humanities looking for active learning methods that might work in their subject areas. On that topic, Derek Bruff has a great overview of Think-Pair-Share, the simplest and perhaps most brilliant active method of them all. Here, he combines that method with the use of classroom response systems, an approach I’ve used effectively in both science/math and humanities contexts (sometimes in the same course and class session, gasp!). I’d love to know if there are other conversations happening around what active methods work well in the humanities.

Lastly, Alex Small’s 2014 piece, “In Defense of the Lecture” in the Chronicle of Higher Education succeeds in many of the ways that Worthen’s article falls flat. Of note, he allows for the limitations of lecture to exist alongside its achievements. He makes a strong case for what lecture does that other methods do not, namely modeling the formulation of a logical oral argument.

I’m excited to be part of such a rich, timely and necessary conversation about teaching and learning. To all of this, yes! More please.

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