How should a good lecture be prepared?

28 07 2010

When I started graduate school, I was determined not to be one of those professors who lectures off the same yellow notes for thirty years. In my upper-level classes, this is easy as they are almost always structured around discussions of some sort or another. In my survey class, I feel I have no choice but to lecture most of the time. There’s too much to cover and too many people to do anything else (although I try to run at least a few directed discussions when non-textbook reading is due).

I still remember how hard it was to write my first set of survey lectures during my first semester teaching. “Assign the second-best textbook and steal from the best,” I was told. I followed that advice too, but have changed those lectures enough since then that I know they’re all my own now. In fact, that doesn’t really matter anymore because I barely even look at my notes when I’m lecturing. I have them handy in case I have an early “senior moment,” as my older colleagues like to call them, but after ten years I can explain most of the important points in my survey class off the top of my head. I like doing it this way as I can concentrate on speaking slower, paying enough attention so that students don’t reach for their phones and seeing when hands go up with questions.

That said, this article (via UD, of course) got me thinking. The writer is explaining why her students don’t know how to take notes:

They told me that in their schools, teachers deliver content via PowerPoint. Teachers upload slides to the virtual learning environment and print them out for the students to revise. There is a reason for this attentiveness. So many schools are conscious of league tables that teachers cannot risk student failure. They not only teach (to) the exam, but give students page after page (after page) of PowerPoint slides so that they do not risk missing anything from their notes.

One consequence of their actions is that students do not learn how to take notes from research material. A dependency culture on teachers is created, facilitated by PowerPoint and its non-Microsoft equivalents Keynote and Impress. When these students arrive at university, many academics perpetuate the problem. A lack of planning and preparation for a teaching session means too many walk into a lecture with a memory stick of PowerPoint slides. They have not written a lecture. They have written PowerPoint slides. They think these two things are the same. They are not. We see similar problems in conferences. Researchers are meant to present scholarship to colleagues. Instead they project PowerPoint slides.

As I’ve written before in this space, I use PowerPoint like a slide projector: Almost all pictures with very little text. I hand the students nothing when I’m done. My aspiration is to redo my lectures so that all I need is a one page list of what each slide is in its proper. That way I can talk directly to students in an organized fashion off the top of my head without having to read anything verbatim.

Am I off my rocker? Isn’t that what a good lecture is supposed be? UD writes, self-referentially:

UD argues that the burgeoning popularity of both the mobile person-hiding machine and the PowerPoint machine involves a growing terror of public interaction in itself. Not merely public speaking. Public anything.

I, on the other hand, aspire to lecture without notes in order to facilitate interaction and spontaneity rather than avoid it. Isn’t it the reading verbatim that’s the problem rather than the PowerPoint per se?

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6 responses

29 07 2010
PhilosopherP

I teach at a CC — and only ‘service’ courses — so, we have about 6 possible preps..

I teach very much like you do — from a list of sub-topics that need to be covered in a particular class period or section. Most days it’s on a small post-it, on a copy of the powerpoint slides for the unit.

I tend to only use the powerpoints to keep multiple sections on the same basic set of topics — so that they can all take the same exam — and I don’t forget what was covered in any particular section. To that end, I don’t print them for students, although I do put them up on the course management system in case one of them needs a general outline of the day/unit topic areas.

The content of the slides themselves is almost always text — generally the most important direct quotes from the philosopher under discussion – or questions to prompt discussion. I often forget to change the slides — and write a lot on the board as I go.

Really, the only thing that has prompted my students to take notes is giving a quiz on class content — if they know they’ll immediately be asked to write an essay on one of the class/unit sub-topics — then they’ll take some notes. The trouble is that this is VERY labor intensive for me — and we have sections of 50 students (and, of course nothing resembling a TA…) and a 5/5 load. The math is daunting…

29 07 2010
Jonathan Rees

Phil. P:

You just gave me a good idea for another post: Why I hate Blackboard. I promise I’ll get to it before too long.

PS I wouldn’t do PowerPoint if it weren’t for the pictures, but I can understand why there aren’t that many pictures out there for a philosophy class. Where would you go after this one?

29 07 2010
PhilosopherP

The class gets really bored with one photo all semester :).

I assigned class presentations using the Pecha Kucha format — 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide (on a timer) — slides should be visuals or a few words at most etc… They had applied ethics questions that were pretty narrow — and they needed an ethical theory as a justification of their answer. I was pleasantly surprised with the high quality of their presentations.

22 08 2010
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[…] news to me because I’ve been aspiring to double my supply of slides fast so that I can change the way I lecture. My goal is to work off the pictures rather than my notes so that I can be more spontaneous. Having […]

27 11 2010
How do you handle texting in class? « More or Less Bunk

[…] strategy wasn’t supposed to be an anti-texting strategy, but I’m convinced it helps. As I’ve written before, I’ve made a great effort to reorganize my survey lectures so that I’m doing far less […]

12 04 2011
What would a post coverage model history survey course look like?, Part I. « More or Less Bunk

[…] used to think I wanted to get all my lecture notes down to a single page. This new model comes from doing book talks. General readers don’t want a dull lecture, why […]

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