The lecture method has come under serious criticism in recent times (Haave, 2019). A body of research attests to the benefits of active learning (Freeman et al., 2014; Deslauriers et al., 2019). In view of the upsurge of support for active learning, the lecture method seems somewhat anachronistic when it comes to reaching today’s students. The good news is that active learning and lecture are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are mutually beneficial. The strengths and strategies of active learning are the missing link needed to inject life into the traditional lecture method to make it an engaging, interactive learning experience (Goodbar, 2019).
Advantages of Lecturing: Lecture is an expository teaching model that is effective for organizing and conveying large amounts of information to students at the same time. Also, there are instructional situations that call for exposition for example when teaching a new content or when presenting a complex concept that is likely to be confusing to students. However, a major argument against the lecture method is that it promotes passivity and student disengagement.
Merging Lecture with Active Learning Structures and Techniques: The literature on active learning has introduced several simple structures and techniques that university teachers can easily implement to engage students in learning. Merging engaging lecture presentations with applicable structures and techniques is the formula for turning the traditional lecture into interactive lecturing. Active learning structures and techniques can be implemented before instruction and at strategically-planned points in a class session: the first five minutes, every 15 minutes during, and the last five minutes of a lecture.
Active Learning Structures Before Instruction: The purpose of this diagnostic practice is to assess student thinking of the learning material before they come to class, and then use the information gathered to adjust and inform the teaching and learning process (West, 2018). Just-in Time Teaching (JiTT) is a structuring technique that can be used to scaffold student learning of content before instruction. Here, students respond to open-ended questions online about new content before it is presented in class. The university teacher reviews students’ submissions, and adjusts teaching and learning to address misconceptions just in time in the learning process.
The First Five Minutes: The first few minutes of class are very crucial to the ebb and flow of student learning for the rest of the period. It is important to use ‘engagement triggers’ to grab students’ attention and focus their minds on the content at hand. There are several structures and techniques for focusing students’ attention on learning. Instead of going over the learning points from the previous class, Major (2019) suggests that university teachers bookend the first minutes by asking students to summarize the key learning points of the last class in a memo to an imaginary classmate who was absent. Lang (2019) recommends posing challenging, puzzling questions to prompt students to think aloud and talk about the subject at hand.
Structures during lecture: We are all too familiar with the aphorism, “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.” At best, students hear and remember about forty percent of the information presented in a lecture. The question is, Why not incorporate structures into a lecture to scaffold active listening, note-taking and student retention of pertinent information? One structure for scaffolding knowledge retention involves giving students guided notes that summarize the key points of a lecture, with blank spaces that they have to fill out during the lecture (McMurtrie, 2019). Also, giving students a handout with five to ten multiple choice items to answer using information from the lecture should promote active listening and retention of knowledge.
Active Learning Techniques During Lecture: Our working memory can only process a limited amount of information at a time. The information that does not make it to long-term memory is lost. The traditional lecture practice of presenting content in extended blocks of time does not foster the storage of information in long-term memory. Therefore, instead of lecturing for an extended one-hour block, break the lecture into fifteen-minute segments, and establish strategic breaks between segments. Then implement simple active learning techniques such as think-pair-share, retrieval practice and one-sentence summary during breaks to check for understanding. Interspersing lecturing with active learning techniques primes all students to have equitable access to learning success and it is effective for facilitating the transfer of learning content into long-term memory.
The Last Five Minutes: The last five minutes is the second bookend of the class period. Students are engaged in thinking about what they are about to learn during the first five minutes of class. The focus of the last five minutes is to ask students to reflect on what they have learned and the questions that they have about the topic. The minute paper and the muddiest point are effective active learning techniques for structuring this bookend.
Lecture versus active learning is a moot issue. All that the age-old lecture method needs is an injection of active learning structures and techniques to transform it into a win-win evidence-based best practice.
Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/early/2019/09/03/1821936116.full.pdf
Goodbar, D. (2019, November 3). Do Students Really Learn Nothing From a Lecture? Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Do-Students-Really-Learn/247433
Haave, N. (2019, July 1). My worst student ratings ever. Retrieved from https://www.teachingprofessor.com
Lang, J.M. (2016, January 11). Small changes in teaching: The first five minutes of class. Retrieved October 14, 2019 from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Small-Changes-in-Teaching-The/234869
Lang, J. M. (2016, March 7). Small changes in teaching: The last five minutes of class. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Small-Changes-in-Teaching-The/235583
Major, C. H. (2019, October 21). Interactive lecturing: A pedagogy that works. Retrieved from https://www.teachingprofessor
Mcmurtrie, B. (2019, October 3). Can the lecture be saved? Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Can-the-Lecture-Be-Saved-/247268
Freeman, S. et al. (2014). Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics. PNAS, 111, 8410-8415. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1319030111
West, J. (2018, October 1). Responsive planning improves learning and teaching. Retrieved from https://www.teachingprofessor.com
Funmi Amobi is an instructional consultant and College Liaison in Oregon State University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Funmi provides consultations to faculty in individual and small group settings to support teaching excellence and student success. Funmi holds a doctorate degree in secondary education with major emphasis in curriculum and instruction from Arizona State University. As a reflective practitioner, she is a life-long student of the scholarship of teaching and learning. To schedule a Sparkshop call Funmi @ 541 737 1338 or email: Funmi.Amobi@OregonState.edu