Monday, September 24, 2007

"The Lecture is Dead. Long Live the Lecture."

"The Lecture is Dead. Long Live the Lecture."

Role of Note-Taking

Response to previous postings "The best 'lecture' ever"

Excerpt from posting to POD listserv by Steve Gilbert Aug 29 2007.

"The Lecture is Dead. Long Live the Lecture."
That's the new title that emerged yesterday during a conversation I was privileged to have with Paul A. Lacey in preparation for a free online Webcast next Friday (Sept 7) about pedagogy.
Click here for full digital recording of this event:

Paul often referred to his experiences as the first Director of a Lilly Endowment project to support young faculty members. He described the rapidly growing movement to oppose lecturing in college courses, the over-zealous advocates of eliminating all lectures who claimed that students could learn more efficiently from textbooks, etc., and, eventually, the evaporation of this issue. All in the 1970s.

Paul noted the disappearance of note-taking by students during lectures as one of many important changes since then. He described some of his work with a variety of faculty colleagues over many years to help them improve the effectiveness of their lecture-dominated courses. He often focused on helping the faculty members to shape the students' purposes and practices in note-taking.

I want to suggest that student note-taking may be viewed as a valuable lens for focusing more clearly on the intersection of new technology options, changing educational practices, and common misconceptions about "engagement" and "active learning."

First, do you agree that most students do not arrive in most lecture-based courses prepared to take notes effectively? Is that quite different from a few years or decades ago?

Second, technology as culprit. Many teachers and learners have been seduced by the capability of recording and publishing live events in various ways, as the relevant technology has become so easy to use, available, and inexpensive. They have leapt to the conclusion that a full audio recording or full video recording of the entire event is superior to and removes the need for note-taking by individual students.

Third, the practice of a faculty member or student or other authorized person serving as official note-taker for a course is also seen as superior to and removing the need for note-taking by individual students.

The Misconceptions
I learned rather painfully by trial and error over many years that if I do not take notes myself during a lecture, presentation, or meeting I do not focus as sharply on what is being said and I do not engage as actively as when I am constantly trying to rephrase, summarize, identify main points, and jot notes - including my own questions, ideas for further actions, etc. Even if I never review those notes again, the process of writing them (by hand or by computer) makes a big difference for me. I don't think this need of mine is especially unusual. I also don't believe that everyone needs to take notes in the same way that I do. Nor do I believe that taking notes oneself is incompatible with making use of notes, guidelines, or recordings prepared by others.

Many students CAN entirely avoid engaging with what is being "delivered" in a lecture, and that is the beginning of a legitimate complaint about lecture-based courses. However, if the students are helped to take notes in an effective way or to participate using other structured activities and devices (many already described in this series of email messages), lectures can be quite effective. Students can be "actively engaged" without having to speak aloud to anyone.

Many college and university faculty members still begin their teaching careers with the tacit beliefs that all their students have career goals, enthusiasm for the discipline, and study/learning habits similar to the teacher's own. Overcoming that predilection has always been an important step on the path to becoming a good teacher for undergraduates who are not destined for graduate school or majoring in the teacher's field. With the increasing numbers and variety of backgrounds of undergraduate students, this step becomes even more important. And so does a faculty member's acceptance of responsibility for guiding students' efforts to learn in a course.

If a teacher includes lectures, the teacher may need to offer some suggestions about how and why to take notes. If the teacher decides to make some kinds of recordings or approved notes available that practice should be explained carefully. Students should be encouraged to use the other resources effectively in conjunction with their own note-taking. And, of course, students may need to know about the increasing variety of effective ways to take notes so that each students can determine which kinds of note-taking are most useful for that individual student in which kinds of courses. [Some examples of useful note-taking methods: outlining, concept mapping, drawings, verbatim phrases, indications of priority, follow-up goals, … etc.]

I'm looking forward to learning more from Paul Lacey next Friday and hope that some of you will join us. Oh, I personally prefer to include some kinds of visible interaction with students/audience/participants at least once every 10 or 15 minutes even in a "lecture" - whether that happens to be with a group of hundreds of people in a single room or in an online session.

Steve Gilbert
President, The TLT Group


Paul A. Lacey,
Emeritus Prof. of English, Earlham College
Clerk [Board Chair], American Friends Service Committee

"Boundaries in Academia: Personal, Professional, Political, Spiritual?"

"Terror and Other Threats to Humanity"

Fifth World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, Rome, November 2004

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