April 21, 2007

Better Lectures

The latest message from the Tomorrow's Professor's Mailing List was called "How to Create Memorable Lectures." It was from the newsletter, Speaking of Teaching, produced by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), Stanford University -, http://ctl.stanford.edu/Newsletter/ Winter 2005, Vol. 14, No.1.

It never hurts to have reminders about how to lecture, because, let's face it, all academics do it. I remember being highly influenced by the best lecturers when I was an undergraduate, many years ago.

The whole article is good, but I liked this reminder of how to help students take in the information you're presenting:

Once we have students' attention, we need to consider how quickly students can process information. Short-term memory requires time to process the sensory input we receive; students are not sponges and cannot immediately "absorb" new information. Give students short breaks throughout lecture to review their notes and ask questions. A short break that includes students' questions can also give the lecturer an opportunity to assess student understanding and adjust the remaining part of the lecture if needed.You can also include a more formal activity or assignment after every 15-20 minutes of presentation. For example, ask students to summarize or paraphrase the last few important points, either in their notes or with the person sitting nearest them. You can then review the points and move on to the next phase in the lecture.

A frequent complaint from the professors I work with is that it takes too long to prepare lectures. I you include these kinds of techniques, not only will you have less to prepare, your students will learn more .

For your convenience, here is the summary that was included at the end of the article:

Quick and Easy Ideas for Better Lectures

Provide students with a framework for each lecture

o Aim for three to five main points in each lecture.
o Begin the lecture with a high-level question that the upcoming information can answer.
o Prepare a handout of the lecture's main points.
o During lecture, be explicit about what students should focus on.

Don't overload students

o Give students short breaks throughout lecture to review their notes and ask questions.
o Include a formal activity or assignment after every 15-20 minutes of presentation.
o Don't use too many different types of presentation materials at once.
o Don't give students two conflicting things to attend to at the same time.

Students are also more likely to remember information that relates to ideas or experiences they are already familiar with.

o Use examples from student life, current events, or popular culture.
o Ask students to generate their own examples from personal experience.
o Tell students how new information relates to previous lectures in your course.
o Show students how specific skills can be applied to real-world problems.
o Create activities and assignments that ask students to fit new information into the overall themes of the course.

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