For years now I’ve been a reader of Robert Talbert‘s column Casting Out Nines hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Last week he wrote a post (“Is lecture really the thing that needs fixing?“) that gave me a lot to chew on. Here’s where I find myself today:
- Lectureculture is a set of machinery that self-replicates and it has political, social, psychological, instructional, and institutional components. It is pervasive and I find it in the world all around me, and some of the cultural natives don’t even recognize its existence.
- When I run a course, my #1 goal is to help learners move from being introduced to a concept to understanding and displaying mastery of the concept. Lecture is not the most effective way to help learners*.
- If I do nothing but lecture in my classes, I am helping sustain lectureculture and I am not helping my learners toward mastery the best I can, in violation of my #1 goal.
My plan of action: I’m teaching “Calculus II” again this semester. Although I’m using a standards-based approach, I must fess up that last semester nearly all of our class time was devoted to either lecture or assessment.
I am a lectureculture native and it is hard for me to let go. But I have come up with two ways I want to add non-lecture content delivery this semester (that don’t involve me tossing out all of my old materials).
First, I plan to continue last semester’s “Madness Mondays.” On those days, I introduced my students to ideas not necessarily tied to our course. I wanted to pick topics that I thought would inspire curiosity or happy befuddlement in my students, so they would walk away wanting to know more about what they had heard. (Examples: The Cantor set. Hilbert’s Hotel. Countably infinite vs uncountably infinite). I hoped to approach these ideas using a type of moderated discussion, letting the students ask questions to each other and talk about what was perplexing, interesting, fascinating, confusing, etc.
My husband asked me why I wasn’t combining these things under one umbrella. To me, they hit two different–but equally important–goals for my course that can’t be found directly on our syllabus. They are
- I want my students to develop an appreciation for mathematics outside of what will show up on their next exam. I want them to be exposed to the kinds of questions mathematicians ask. I want them to practice the difficult skill of speaking with others about mathematical ideas.
- I want my students to become more fluent in numeration. I want my students to practice looking at the same problem from multiple perspectives. I want my students to see mathematics as a creative endeavor and get away from the idea that what mathematicians do is “apply a standard algorithm, proceed the same way, get the right answer.”
[Many of my digital colleagues seem to use some type of presentation requirement in their courses to get at item (1.) above. While I think that having students present math problems, solutions, ideas, etc. to each other would help develop this skill, and other skills too, I remember how terrified I was as an undergraduate at the thought of standing up in front of people and I don’t think I could impose those feelings on anyone in my classroom.]
Hopefully I will come up with other ways to push back against lectureculture in my classroom.
*As I was writing this post, the following MOOC announcement appeared in my Twitter feed & seemed quite apropos:
— Derek Bruff (@derekbruff) August 18, 2014