Ending the Boring Lecture

When I was first hired to teach, I thought I could easily produce great lectures, the kind we see on Ted Talks. I had pictures, graphs, nicely formatted text, important content highlighted, animations, the works. My lectures were even enthusiastically delivered. Unfortunately, some students were not as engaged as I was expecting and several students were nodding off. What was I doing wrong and just how was I to keep my students engaged?

It’s not necessarily the content of the lecture or even its delivery that keeps students engaged, but activity…

After a lot of deliberation and several classes later (like Teaching Methods, Course Construction, and Educational Psychology), I discovered that it’s not necessarily the content of the lecture, or even its delivery that keeps students engaged, but activity (i.e. active engagement). People fall asleep all the time watching great movies or listening to talk-show radio. It’s not the lecture or the PowerPoint that’s at fault for lack of engagement, but lack of activity. “On Course” was all about engagement techniques and there are are many that we can adopt to keep the students both active and engaged in the lesson plans and I have adopted several techniques “On Course” and other sources to keep my students from being dis-engaged.

My lectures now include shorter sections with questioning techniques to keep the students on their toes, fill-in sheets, exercises to do in-class pertaining to the subject matter they just learned, and group activities/exercises to help students work together and problem solve (most of my content relies heavily on math skills). I really enjoy walking around the room and watching the students interact with each other to help solve problems and discover better methods to accomplish their tasks. If I see a group going astray, I help steer them back on track. If I see a group of people not working as a group, I stress the importance of  helping each other in a cooperative fashion to accomplish their goals.

I no longer have students falling asleep and seldom are students staring at their cell-phones during the lecture because I keep them engaged. Thanks to “On Course” and other professional development activities, I have learned to help students succeed by keeping them engaged in the classroom.

One thought on “Ending the Boring Lecture

  1. I am so pleased that you discovered early in your teaching career some of the essentials of interactive learning among your students; and I believe as a facilitator of learning I should be a
    BORE = brief, organized, relevant, and enthusiastic.

    I decided to asked my students what are the essential ingredients of a positive learning atmosphere – here are their responses ( 120 students).

    1. The best class I have ever had was because:

    a. What the teacher did: crazy, fun, interactive, motivates us, no tests, relaxing, learning about the self, discussions, respectful, flexible, understanding, used concrete examples, related learning to life, kept it lively, passionate, enthusiastic, supportive, shared necessary information, humorous, knowledgeable, positive, engaging, high energy, interesting, kept the class moving, limited lecturing, cool assignments, organized, took things lightly, and told some funny stories.

    b. What the students did: interactive, worked together, participated, open discussions, feedback, engaged, asked questions, small classes more effective, respectful of one another, polite, and students wanted to be there.

    c. Other factors: time flew by, good atmosphere, comfortable teaching style, solid content, openness, smaller class, appropriate breaks, group work, start and end on time, sometimes released earlier rather than starting a new topic, useful, interesting subject matter, relevant, activity based, participation, not glued to the book, structured but open, relaxed class, and worksheets were realistic, and helped to learn better.

    2. The worst class I have ever had was because:

    a. What the teacher did: assuming intelligence, didn’t try to understand, made students write with a red pen, poor planning, not organized, accusatory, not in touch with students, didn’t teach, death by power point, no explanations, don’t answer questions, talked too much – they know it all, complained about everything, not contributing to group work- sat on their chair and never moved around the classroom, non-stop lecture, did not give breaks, lazy, judgmental, crabby, unsocial, close minded, didn’t know what they were talking about, was condescending, hard to understand what they were saying, too much material, not knowledgeable, taught for memorization and not understanding, gave too many objective tests, and too much homework, and some being busy-work, rude, inconsiderate, ran class like a prison, forgetful, read off powerpoint and did not actually teach, losing temper, bad mood, monotone, read word for word, and language barrier.

    b. What the students did: messed around, texting, interrupted, didn’t pay attention, withdrew from the course, distracted others, bullied with words, disrespectful, disruptive, rude to the instructor and peers, negative, uncooperative, bad groups, no interaction, were not serious, were playing games on phones, ended up teaching one another, and lack of participation.

    c. Other factors: time dragged, lack of content, teacher lacked experience, lack of breaks, monotonous, overwhelming and useless information, and hard to follow.

    3. I learn best in classes where the teacher: involves the students, fewer power points, engaging, interactive, provides additional information, is patient, not judgmental, explains in detail, helpful, laid back, humorous, uses examples, patient, eye contact, is passionate about the subject matter, easygoing, organized, gave feedback, not put on the spot, visuals.

    4. Students in courses help me learn when they: offered relevant information, work together to accomplish goals, leave me alone, participate, when they are not the student from hell, when they do not skip class, understand the material and share their understanding, share their opinions, and don’t distract me.

    5. I am most likely to participate in classes when: they are smaller, involved in group work, relaxed environment, interested, open forum, respectful, peers listen, no pressure, fun, has treats, and have a good teacher.

    6. Here is something that makes it hard to learn in a course: distractions, personal problems out of class, lectures and no discussions, power points, confusion about the requirements, irrelevant content, too much information at once that is not explained well enough, assignments without guidance, fear of being judged, an empty stomach, disorganized, and less lecture and more interactive learning.

    7. Here is something that makes it easy to learn in a course: organization, not overloading with outside assignments, enjoy the material, interactive, knowing due dates and course material in advance, good attitude, group activity, when instructors challenge and keep you on your toes, lessons broken down into easier parts, teacher knows the material, teacher enjoys teaching the subject, examples, levity and humor, well explained assignments, and open communication.

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