Lecturing

Faculty members at SUNY Plattsburgh, as at other institutions of higher learning, are professors, full/part-time lecturers, and adjunct lecturers.  These titles conjure up images of experts in their fields standing in front of students, speaking and professing (AKA: lecturing). Lecturing commences with the hope of being inspiring enough to keep students engaged for three hours each week for 15 weeks.  The reality of doing this in our short-attention-span-society is challenging, even for the most engaging speakers.

I recently read a post from The Teaching Professor Blog by Maryellen Weimer (2016) entitled, Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?  She shared the results of a survey from 275 faculty members in the area of economics who reported that, “they lectured 70 percent of the class time, led discussion 20 percent of the time, and had students doing activities for 10 percent of the time.”  She wrote about continuing reliance on lecturing in many fields and resistance to changing other aspects of the profession including course design, approaches to testing, assignments, and grading.  There are, of course, some who have become comfortable with change and they embrace new approaches that have a long-lasting impact on students’ learning.  These reflective teachers use a continuous improvement model and are always seeking new, effective teaching approaches through workshops, the Center for Teaching Excellence, collaboration with colleagues, and reading.

CTE-main-image

 

I tried new approaches to teaching after discussions with colleagues that were inspired by reading Ken Bain’s book, “What the Best College Teachers Do.” I  became much more democratic and involved my students in decisions about how they wanted to learn material.  I changed the way I used class time and took a different approach to testing with help from The Center for Teaching Excellence. Hanging around with professors from Teacher Education also gave me a few new teaching techniques.  Changing my approach to teaching was a huge risk in my mind because I had high ratings on my Course Opinion Surveys.   I was comfortable with lecturing – something I later labeled, “Death by PowerPoint” after changing to approaches that required deeper engagement by students.  I knew I was presenting the information my students needed to be successful in clinical settings with clients.   So why change?

The students had changed.  They had grown up in a world where they had immediate access to information.  No card catalogs, no waiting weeks for research articles to arrive, and reduced time standing at copiers to make information from the library mobile; now, it’s all just a click away.  These students obtained and worked with their information in new ways compared to the recent past.  I had made many of these changes too, but started asking if my progression of change matched changes in their way of learning.  Another reason was based on the question, “Given all of the tools available to me, what teaching approaches would have the greatest long-lasting effect on deep learning?  I became much more interested in how my students thought about course content rather than learning a lot of content.  I knew they might forget some of the information I taught them, however, they had instant access to information; they didn’t have instant access to good thinking.

FishThinkBigger-Copy-300x187

Is it time to consider new titles for those who teach in higher education?  In the K-12 environment, we still have teachers, an honorable title that encompasses more than lecturing and professing.  Notice the blog I quoted earlier that came from “The Teaching Professor.”  When considering teaching, there are a few questions to ask.

  • What risks need to be taken to employ new teaching strategies that maximize learning and are you willing to take the risks?
  • What teaching environment would encourage the willingness to take risks with new teaching approaches?
  • What are the best ways to take student learning objectives from a Master Course Outline and backplan learning for students with varying abilities? How do we assess these learning objectives to ensure learning has occurred?
  • What role might project-based or case-based learning play in curriculum design to promote deep learning?
  • What if you lectured for half or even one quarter of class time and planned activities to engage active learning the remainder of the time? If you did this, how might students gain information about content in ways that don’t require as much lecturing?

There are so many possibilities these days that provide good answers to these questions.  The bar of change that must be jumped is set by a willingness to take risks.  The beauty of making this jump in higher education is that you don’t have to do it alone.

Bonus:  As Dean, I have spent many hours over the last month reviewing faculty evaluation files.  One of the things I appreciated was when someone shared a self-reflective statement that addressed how a new approach did or did not work in class.  What I appreciated most was the vulnerability shared when something did not work and what would be tried next time; this is where wisdom is born.  Evaluation files, to me, are about growth, not judgment and this is what supports an environment in which risks can be taken.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
Excellence in Teaching
Lifelong Learning/Growth
Collaboration

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Weimer, M. (2016, February, 3) Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?  [Web Log Post].  Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/why-are-we-so-slow-to-change-the-way-we-teach/

Lecturing Image (April 27, 2012). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from:  https://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/change11-cck12-is-lecturing-the-cream-of-teaching-at-the-mercy-of-learning/

Teaching Excellence Image (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from: http://academics.lmu.edu/cte/

Fish Image (February 19, 2013). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2013/02/19/four-risks-you-need-to-take/#761d40044d36