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«Delivering Powerful Lectures Danielle Mihram, Ph.D., Director Center for Excellence in Teaching Office of the Provost Overview • Why lecture? When ...»

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Delivering Powerful


Danielle Mihram, Ph.D., Director

Center for Excellence in Teaching

Office of the Provost


• Why lecture? When to lecture?

• Objectives; Opportunities

• Conveying the information

• Student learning outcomes

• Student preparation

• Effective presentation of content material

• Linking the lecture to discussion groups or lab sessions

• Enhanced lecture formats

• Assessing student learning

• Evaluating your lectures Quotes that give lectures a bad name

• The first duty of a lecturer: to hand you after an hour's discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks, and keep on the mantelpiece forever.” – Virginia Woolf • “College is a place where a professor's lecture notes go straight to the students' lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either” – Mark Twain • “Some people talk in their sleep. Lecturers talk while other people sleep” – Albert Camus • “My lecture was a complete success, but the audience was a failure” – Anon Sloman, John and Mitchell, Chris (2002).The Handbook for Economic Lecturers.

Why Lectures?

• The term “lecture” can encompass a range of styles, approaches and formats

• Lectures are a most effective option, as part of a class period, if they have several objectives

that aim to:

– Motivate and challenge students – Give them insights – Focus on student learning When to Lecture?

Is most successful as a “bookend approach”

For example:

– At beginning of class: Presentation of topics to be discussed – 10-12 minute lecture followed by in-class assignments (individual or group projects) best suited to work on a specific problem or question (builds understanding) short discussion of results of assignments – Short lecture to summarize and highlight key issues, concepts, or ideas.

Introduces active and collaborative learning Brighton, John A. (2001). Case for Interspersing Active Learning Elements with the Lecture.

Objectives of the Lecture

• To arouse student curiosity and motivation to learn

• To model an approach to specific styles of thinking: e.g., problem solving, case studies

• To give a skillfully assembled background knowledge summary that is not otherwise available

• To adapt very complex, sophisticated, or theoretical knowledge to one’s students’ level and needs in a way unavailable in any other source Objectives of the Lecture

• To present a particular organization of the material, one that clarifies the structure of the textbook or the course or that helps students organize the readings

• To add your personal viewpoint on the material, including your own related research

• To present up-to-date material that is not yet available in printed form.

Nilson, Linda B. (2003). Teaching at its Best. Bolton, MA: Anker, p. 95.

Opportunities of the Lecture Format

• Efficient way to convey and prioritize information about the subject in a condensed format

• Provides a suitable framework for further study

• In a research university, provides a link between research at the forefront of knowledge and teaching

• Newer approaches to teaching and learning (such as active learning) can be embedded in the lecture format so that the learning outcomes of students are significantly improved Conveying the information

• Pacing (time for processing) – the average number of items that can be held in short-term memory is 7 (±2) [Miller, 1956)

• Attention span: about 15 minutes (Healy, 1991)

• Information:

– structured in a logical fashion – Demonstrably meaningful to students (importance of context to learning)

• Content: 2 or 3 key concepts or points

• Focus of instructor: intended learning outcomes Learning outcomes linked to forms of learning

• Surface learning: focus on memorization of words, formulae, and theories rather than building relationships and connections – Characterized by:

• Excessive amount of course material

• Assessment methods that emphasize recall

• Poor or little feedback on progress Learning outcomes linked to forms of learning

• Deep learning: ability to organize understanding in a coherent whole rather than a set of disassociated facts – Encouraged by

• A choice over content and study methods

• Teaching methods that build on existing knowledge and experience

• Active involvement by students in their learning

• Long-term engagement (by both student and instructor) with the subject Learning outcomes linked to forms of learning

• Strategic learning: adopting whichever approach will maximize the grade – Surface approach if exams reward memorization of disparate facts – Deep approach: Holistic understanding of key ideas and how these apply in different circumstances if assignments are carefully designed Student preparation for a lecture

• Preparatory work by students helps them to see the relevance of the lecture Search web for relevant background information (recent debates and issues [e.g., environmental groups, trade disputes]);

– Revisit relevant theory covered in earlier lectures (e.g., revise relevant parts of a theory)

• quick quiz at start of lecture – Ask students to identify a set number of issues relevant to the topic (contextualizes the material and its relevance)

• Post answers to a discussion board – Assign related readings (e.g., recent articles)

• quick quiz at start of lecture

• In all above cases clear guidance must be given about what is required Effective presentation Five issues

1. Aims and learning objectives – Stated clearly at the beginning of the lecture

2. Overview and clarity of structure – A lecture map: to outline the structure of the lecture in terms of main topics, issues, and theory.

3. Use of examples; reasonable pace – Examples: Judiciously selected: to tie theory to reality;

relating concepts to the concrete – Pace: vary the tempo and nature of the material.

What do you want students to do? (listen, complete a diagram – or proof, respond to questions, express a point of view, role play…) Effective presentation

4. In-class quizzes at the beginning (or end) of a topic:, true/false listings, multiple-choice Active participation: allows students to check on their – understanding and learn from their mistakes

5. Diversity in methods of presentation Graphs, diagrams, equations, models, case studies – Give students partially complete proof or diagram for them to – complete (time to reflect and focus on key point) Present an incomplete model: students fill in the next step – individually or with a neighbor Provide incomplete lists (advantages/disadvantages) for – students to complete Present a case study for brief analysis and discussion of key – issue Effective presentation

5. Diversity in methods of presentation (Cont’d) PowerPoint Presentations – Videos – Weblogs (“blogs”) – Electronic discussion boards (Blackboard, – WebCT) Chat rooms – Public response systems (“Clickers”) – Linking the lecture to discussion groups or to lab sessions Careful integration of the two is important

Questions to address:

• How much time should students spend on follow-up study after the lecture before coming to the discussion or lab?

• Will you refer back to material or activities in previous discussions?

– Advantage: gives students a greater understanding of how course is structured Linking the lecture to discussion groups or to lab sessions

• Do the discussion’s issues/questions directly relate to the material covered in the lecture?

– Decide whether the lecture material needs reinforcing through discussion questions or whether the discussion should be used for follow-up work

• If short activities are included in lecture (completing proofs, brief case studies, etc.) can more creative activities be undertaken in discussions? (debates, role play, mock interviews, in-depth analyses of key policies)

• Is some of the time in discussion or lab sessions used to allow students to ask about points they did not understand in the lectures?

Enhanced Lecture Formats “Guided Lecture”

• Goal: to help students synthesize lecture material and develop their note-taking skills – Lecture objectives given in advance of the session.

– 20-30 minute lecture (students take NO notes) – 5 minutes: Students record what they can recall – 15 minutes: Groups (dyads or triads) discuss instructor-provided question(s) related to lecture, and, in the process, complete their notes – Instructor is available: (questions for clarification are encouraged)

• Study guides, well-designed questions, pre- and post-session minitests are part of the process Enhanced Lecture Formats “Feedback Lecture”

• Goal: Increase student participation in the learning process – In addition to the assigned readings a supplementary study guide provide students with learning objectives, pre- and posttests, and, in some cases, an outline of the lecture notes.

– Before class students work on study questions – In class two 20-minute mini-lectures are separated by a study session

• Students form dyads or triads and discuss the questions provided by the instructor or the study guide • 88% of students surveyed indicated that they preferred this format over the standard lecture (Bonwell and Eison, 1991)

• Requires extensive planning and preparation Enhanced Lecture Formats “Lecture with Periodic Pauses”

• Goal: Improve comprehension and retention of the lecture material – 12-15 minute lecture – 2-minute Pause: students work in pairs - review, discuss, revise their notes – Repeat this pattern 3 times – Last 3 minutes of class: “Write everything you can recall from the lecture”

• Experiment: “treatment” and “control” groups in two different courses over two semesters

• Results: on a 65-item multiple-choice quiz given 13 days after the last lecture, comprehension and retention of the lecture material was consistently much better, in some cases up to 2 letter grades (Bonwell and Eison,1991)..

Assessing student learning

• Lecture may be tested directly:

– The discussion following the lecture could begin with an objective test, a short essay, a problem, a case study

• Lecture could be directly relevant to an examination or an assignment

• Student lecture notes could be assessed – Clear grading criteria are given – Students read and provide written comments on each other’s notes: this commentary is then assessed by instructor and feedback is provided [advantage: peer review, reflection on the process of note-taking] Assessing student learning

• Depending on class size each student could be asked to provide a reflective commentary on each lecture which would be electronically distributed to other students and formally assessed.


– encourages students’ reflective approach to the lectures – Helps develop writing and critical skills – Provides useful feedback to instructor – Creates a community of learners Evaluating your lectures

• Standard student evaluations (questions relate to clarity, pace, and relevance)


In most cases questions focus on instructor as “performer” not on student learning outcomes

• Self evaluations: judged against criteria – Reflections on what you are planning to do or have done in terms of student learning objectives Evaluating your lectures

Reflective questions to ask before the lecture:

• What do I want my students to get from the lecture?

• How will the lecture achieve this objective?

• Will I cover the right amount of material, given the abilities, experience, and motivation of the students?

• Are there better ways of organizing the material?

Evaluating your lectures Reflective questions (cont’d)

• Are the examples appropriate?

• Are the visual aids clear and the right length?

How could they be improved?

• What activities for students are planned? What do I want students to gain from these activities?

• How will the materials that I provide to students complement the lecture? Will they encourage or discourage attention or attendance?

Evaluating your lectures Feedback during the lecture

• Public response System (“clickers”): could be used for multiple-choice questions instant display of students’ choice or “vote”

• One-minute paper – One or two short questions about specific aspects of the lecture Evaluating your lectures Feedback after the lecture - supports students’ learning

• Invite comments about the lecture via the electronic discussion board – Students are asked to identify topics they have not understood, questions they’d like to ask, discussions to which they would like to contribute – A section on Blackboard devoted purely to general feedback on the lectures – Create a FAQ section where you post the answers (eliminates repetitive questions)

• Invite a colleague to visit your class In short…

The lecture:

1. Is only one among many pedagogical tools.

2. Introduces active and collaborative learning

3. Has, as pedagogical objectives:

Motivate and challenge students – Give them insights – Focus on student learning –

4. Gives a skillfully assembled background knowledge summary that is not otherwise available

5. Adapts very complex, sophisticated, or theoretical knowledge to students’ level and needs in a way unavailable in any other source

6. Requires a diversity in methods of presentation Assessment of student learning is linked to student assignments and student notes Self-evaluation and reflection on learning outcomes is an ongoing process


Bonwell, C.C. and Eison, J. A. (1991). Active Learning:

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