I’ve been thinking about over structured lectures quite a bit lately. Actually I may just be getting truly sick of powerpoint, and be contemplating rebellion. I get that providing some kind of outline to the lecture is helpful in the production of good notes to revise from, but its also so difficult to incorporate interactive elements and for some topics, interest.
A little background on technology. I’m using a tablet PC in lectures so can record, permanently, any/all notes taken, and I can ‘clean it up’ after the fact if necessary. I’m also recording my lectures so can provide MP3 format files of my side of the discussion/talking. I refuse to use the chalk boards provided in one lecture hall, mainly because I don’t want chalk dust in the fan of my computer. Or on my trousers. I go a little loopy if required to use an interactive whiteboard, mainly because the damn things are seldom aligned properly and I cant write 5 cm from where the text is appearing.
During my postdoc I did a course on course design, and some of the activities discussed were very ‘unlecture’ in format. Things like dividing topics up and asking groups of students to research small parts and report back to the class later in the session or at the next session. I can see that you’d have to have good guidelines (perhaps questions?) to get the students to engage with this fully, and you’d have to have a reasonably outgoing and interactive class. There were other activities in the course that I couldn’t see working. For example, the chemistry that I teach has no great controversies so a decision line (where people line up across the room and try to work out where their viewpoint fits in between two extremes) wouldn’t really be appropriate. Should I ever teach anything on the ethics of how to clean glassware, I’ll be sure to use it.
Many ‘unlecture’ formats simply would not work in the lecture theaters. It is, uhm, difficult sometimes to get a class to pay appropriate attention and make suitable notes. The number of students who show up to lectures without a pen and piece of paper is a little alarming. It is more difficult to get students to engage in meaningful discussion, getting suitable participation and keeping on topic is challenging for everyone in the room. Again though, chemistry and science in general doesn’t leave too much open for discussion. I tried recording a discussion session with students but found that the important points were lost (even with repetition from me) in the growing background chatter of the room. Perhaps that’s more a question of training and familiarity though – it was the first time I had tried that, and possibly the first time the students had been invited to participate extensively – second time round it could be easier.
Now that the PowerPoint are written though, teaching prep takes less time. I could view this in two ways. It could be an opportunity to investigate some of these other activities and try to incorporate them into the sessions. It could also be an opportunity to do some of the other tasks that are lurking around my desk on any given day. Things like grant writing, research, paper writing… A trade-off I hear you say? When has it ever been anything else?