Lecture Fail?
March 16th, 2012

Lecture Fail? We’re all talking about it—that is, ringing out the old (the traditional one-professor lecture) to make way for the new (reliance on technology). The Chronicle of Higher Education has been doing some neat stuff around this. Earlier in the year they established a challenge to readers to defend or bash the traditional lecture format. Not surprisingly, the responses have inclined in favour of the new. It’s really well worth a visit to the Chronicle site to watch some of accumulating videos submitted by students and profs alike, each gazing into his/her webcam to respond to the question. http://bit.ly/xVHvB6

Apparently many instructors think that because they now use power point in their classrooms they are somehow hip and pedagogically innovative. The dominant complaint from students is that their professors are enacting a kind of Power Point Karaoke—with their back to the classroom they simply read the deadly bulleted text on the screen, word for interminable, forgettable word. That’s three violations right there: 1) the instructors have created slides with tediously detailed text 2) they read directly from the slides 3) they do so by turning their bodies away from the audience of students. You don’t need a degree in communications to know this is the worst possible way to teach.

I continue to see this kind of deadly application of power point at conferences and on my own campus. I just don’t understand why anyone would think this is an appropriate way to deliver information. The old power point formula, nailed in the illustration above, is even more learning-denying than the old single-prof audience-facing lecture format. The Chronicle is doing its bit to get the word out but universities really have to take more responsibility for this virus.

Memorial’s new Teaching and Learning Framework might help move that awareness along. The framework emphasises innovation in teaching delivery. It can’t mandate it, of course, nor can it compel instructors to use one form of delivery over another, but it can encourage more reward for the innovators, and, perhaps, more shame and embarrassment for those who simply refuse to adapt.

For inspiration, and for example, check out the video on the Chronicle site by David Miller at the University of Connecticut who gives two terrific examples of how he teaches using a multi-media approach. http://bit.ly/xVHvB6

I’m no scientist, but in this short demonstration I learned what carotenoid modulation of immune function and sexual attractiveness in zebra finches was.  I’m not kidding. And you, too, can learn some helpful definitions of drug action on the body. Professor Miller is amazingly persuasive. In just a few minutes he makes you want to attend his classes. If I’d had him as a prof I might have gone into Science, after all. He’s no youngster, either. You don’t have to be generation X to know how to animate your classes.

The key is translating your text into visual messages. Talk is good. In the twenty-first century talk aided by visual images is much better.

And then here’s the whole business of story-telling. A staff member in the office here in Graduate School with whom I am also talking about Power Point sent me to this link: http://bit.ly/Ahf71G

It’s all about pulling people in with story. Images and story-telling: people living in caves knew all about that. Time to go back to that future.

Dr. Faye Murrin is Dean pro tempore of the School of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. She completed her B.Sc. (Hons.) at Memorial University, her M.Sc. at Acadia University, and her Ph.D. at Queen's University. Her research interests have always been focused on fungi, in particular the cell biology of insect pathogenic fungi and, more recently, the ecology of mycorrhizal mushrooms in the boreal forest. Dr. Murrin has served in a number of positions on the Council of the Mycological Society of America and was awarded the title of MSA Fellow for her contributions. She was awarded the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Membership Award as founding co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Summer Program. Dr. Murrin participates in public lectures and workshops, and is a Director on the board of Newfoundland Foray, Inc.

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