Teaching and Learing at Indiana University Bloomington
Teaching and Learing at Indiana University Bloomington
Teaching and Learning at IUB
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Handbook Table of Contents > Teaching Methods > Lecturing

Indiana University Teaching Handbook

Lecturing



Introduction

Adapted with permission from Farris, 1985

Lecturing is often equated with college teaching. This is rapidly changing, however, as university instructors have begun to recognize that not all students benefit from lecture, nor is lecture the most efficient way to disseminate information. Originally the “lecturer” read to an audience because access to written material was limited, and many of the learners were illiterate. The printing process, digitized information, and general literacy have dramatically changed the lecturer’s function.

Lecturing still has its rightful place among dozens of other teaching techniques, but the question one has to ask is, “Which technique will do most to help students learn?” Some topics lend themselves much more naturally to lecturing than others. The lecture is valid for these reasons: to provide structure and organization to scattered material; to help pace student learning; to reinforce assigned reading by providing an alternative perspective or source of information; and to use the public speaking opportunity to motivate students.

Preparing Lectures

Adapted with permission from Middendorf & Kalish, 1994

Being in the same room with someone saying something is not equivalent to learning it. Students must engage the material to retain it. Also, given that students' attention span is around 15 to 20 minutes long and university classes last 50 to 75 minutes, you need to do something to control their attention. Lectures should be punctuated with periodic activities. Many IU instructors report that when they intersperse short lectures with active engagement for students for as brief a time as two to five minutes, students seem to become re-energized for the next 15- to 20-minute mini-lecture.

Planning a Lecture

Adapted with permission from Farris, 1985

When you start to plan a lecture, first consider your audience. Undergraduate students represent a broad cross-section of backgrounds and skills, and as a result may arrive at college with varying levels of competence. You neither want to talk over their heads nor to patronize them. You will be more effective if you try as much as possible to draw on knowledge they already have or appeal to experiences that, by analogy, suit the topic.

Before preparing the lecture, ask yourself: how does the lecture fit into the course as a whole? What are your objectives? Do you want to provide the students with an overview of the subject, give them some background information, or provoke them into further contemplation?

Once you’ve decided that the nature of your topic is indeed suitable for a lecture and have considered both your objectives and the knowledge level of your audience, you still want to make sure that what you need to cover will fit within the time allotted. A typical instructor lament is that there is so much material and so little time. Good organization will enable you to eliminate irrelevant material so that you may cover important points more thoroughly. One award-winning IU faculty member told us that “I believe in the ‘few things’ approach. Rather than going through a lot of topics, I cover a few in great depth. Having students stay with a few topicsÖ provides a longer-lasting learning experience than jumping through a lot of different things” (Middendorf et. al., 1990).

Another IU professor tells us that in 20 years of teaching a large introductory lecture course, he has gradually eliminated 75 percent of the material he tried to cover. He thinks it is much better for his students to really learn a little than for them to be buried under too much.

Analyzing the Audience

A lecture should be designed with the student’s perspective in mind. What are students’ current knowledge, assumptions, biases, and, perhaps, misconceptions about the topic? In planning the lecture, you will need to find a way to build on the knowledge students bring, and also provide a means for students to reflect upon their biases and misconceptions. The lecture overall should be planned to answer the question, “How will students’ understanding be different at the end of the presentation?”

Generating an Outline

Once you have determined your subject and what your students’ needs are, formulate one general question that covers the heart of it, one you could answer in a single lecture. Take time to write it down and study it. Then generate three or four points that you could develop to answer this question. Note these down under the question. You are now gazing at your lecture outline.

Choosing Examples

Your next task is to define the elements of your key points and generate effective examples or analogies for each. Examples generated “on the spur of the moment” in class tend to be trivial; if prepared in advance, examples can both illustrate a particular point and broaden students’ understanding of the subject. Think the examples through carefully and consider ways to illustrate them with chalkboard diagrams, slides, overhead transparencies, demonstrations, or case studies, any of which can increase students’ understanding and interest.

Choosing Learning Activities

To effectively teach concepts, we must tell our students the generality or rule and give them specific and carefully considered examples. However, that is not enough. If they are to learn the concept in a usable way, we must provide them with a chance to practice using it. For example, in an anthropology lecture on “ethnocentrism,” students could be asked to list foods from other countries that they find disgusting. Then, you could give them a list of things Americans eat that are unacceptable to people from other cultures (biscuits and gravy!). The value of this type of exercise is that it helps students to make connections between ideas and to create structures of meaning out of what otherwise might be merely a large number of unrelated facts.

Reviewing the Material

Adapted with permission from University of Nevada, Reno

Demonstrating that you know more than your students is easy; teaching is more difficult. Keep in mind that how you relate the material to students will determine your effect as a teacher more than will your ability to generate perfect, complete answers to every question students ask.

However, you will need to develop comfort with the material you are teaching, even if you are confronting it yourself for the first time. Ideally, you will be assigned to a course in the area of your particular expertise, but you should still review material to refresh your memory, and you might try explaining it to someone else as a way of anticipating students’ questions and problems.

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Delivering the Lecture

Your lecture will be more effective if you remember a number of points about the style and clarity of presentation. The following suggestions can help ensure that your lecture is clear and well received (adapted with permission from Cashin, 1985).

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Questioning in the Classroom

How to Ask Questions

Adapted with permission from Hyman, 1982

By learning how to use questions effectively in the classroom, instructors can accomplish a number of interrelated goals. First, by engaging students in a question and-answer dialogue, the usual “one-way” flow of information from instructor to students is transformed into a more interactive process. Students become more active participants in their own learning. In addition, skillful questioning can encourage students to engage in higher-level cognitive processes (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), thus helping to develop their capacity for critical thinking. The current literature suggests several tactics that may assist teachers in improving the use of questioning in their teaching.

Answering Students’ Questions

When answering a student’s question, keep in mind your goals for that day’s class. If the question moves the class toward that goal, you will want to give a complete answer or to redirect it to the class for discussion. If the question is not pertinent, you can tell the student where he or she can find an answer or offer to discuss it after class.

New instructors are often at a loss when they do not know the answer to a question. But it is not necessary to be able to field every question, and students can sense when an instructor “fakes” an answer. Instead, the instructor can offer to find the answer (and then should be sure and follow up) or suggest to the student where he or she can find the answer to the question.

Rewarding Student Participation and Providing Feedback

Adapted with permission from Hyman, 1982

In responding to student questions, a number of guidelines can positively reinforce good student responses and facilitate further discussion.

Teaching Outside your Field of Specialization

Adapted with permission from University of Nevada, Reno

If you are assigned to teach outside of your specialty, you’ll have to work to stay at least a week ahead of your brightest students. Remember that you are not responsible for knowing all the answers; don’t feel compelled to apologize for your “lack of knowledge.” If you cannot answer a question or you have made an error, admit it, but tell your students where they may find the answer or offer to look it up . . . and then do it. (This is good advice for teaching within your own field as well.) University students are usually forgiving in nature, but the one thing they will not tolerate is subterfuge on the part of an instructor.

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