The title of Carl Weiman’s short opinion piece “Stop Lecturing Me” from the August 2014 Sciam article on learning in education is meant to be provocative. But what are some the alternatives in today’s institutional world of 1-2 hour classes and often large numbers – or coursera.org style modular videos?
I was a little disappointed after reading the entire 5 page article. What had I learned that might help me – and derivatively my future students ? But I did learn – or was reminded of – one thing.
Science and scientific learning actually involves trying something, failing, re-evaluating, sometimes with new ideas sometime continuing with the old, failure again, try again maybe in a different direction…. This process of exploration, failure, puzzlement, frustration even…is part and parcel of science – and of learning! So build it into process stream of a lecture slot, and refer back to outcomes as the “lecture” proceeds.
Frustration. Get and let students be frustrated.
Here’s an example. Doug Allen starts out his introductory microeconomics text Economic Principles: 7 ideas for thinking about almost everything. with a few stories. In the very late 18th century officer positions in the British Army were actually bought and sold. People (wealthy families) paid good money for their sons (sorry , gender equality didn’t rule in those days!) to be officers and the British army took their money and supplied the officer position. Today, most officers in the military get paid a wage. But, in the British navy, officer positions were not bought outright for money but were assigned in a complex patronage system. So Doug asks – why? Why did these labour market practices differ from one another way back then , and why do they differ now ? Moreover, he strongly suggests and clearly believes that these are the bread and butter questions economics exists to solve!
My first response reading Doug’s introduction and this was…what the…?? But I think that is just the response Doug wants from his students . Think about this. Wrestle with it. What ideas (theories and facts) would you use – and what ideas would you as an economist use – to answer this rather interesting question. BEFORE he suggests how to think about it. ! (PS the first “model” I used to try to answer it was : this is a pricing problem – look at the demand side and the supply side in the two labour markets” – the navy and the army – at the time. Of course, I was completely ignorant of what “at the time” might mean – but at least I knew what I didn’t know!)
Teaching technology? I guess that is the benefit of reading a textbook as part of learning. Any answers will come later in time associated with reading effort (or copying the reading effort of a good friend who posts their own thinking onto a discussion forum!) . Doug doesn’t answer the question in chapter 1 by the way and unless you have a pdf version making an advanced search on the word “army” easy , you have to read, slowly, to find out the (an) answer. Of course it is also a cost of reading a textbook – who will monitor whether you actually wrestle with the idea on your own – or use an electronic version of the book to skip ahead and find Doug’s solution/explanation or rely on solutions posted by other motivated students? In a lecture time slot with neighbours talking, then the instructor discussing what they have said – possibly even embarassing students by picking out students randomly to explain their thinking or summarize their groups’ thinking – there is some monitoring of these efforts. Moreover, there is modelling, repeated modelling, as the course progresses in this way. Or, their can be.
But, the takeaway from the Sciam article, for me, is : begin a (every?) lecture slot with letting students get frustrated at trying to figure something out before being lectured on the topic. Let them struggle/wrestle with an idea first, in some sense on their own (perhaps in a small group on their own, discussing with a nieghbour in a big lecture theatre? interrupt the flow of the topic with a pause/resume button in a video module? ), and discuss their approaches live in class, then your approach, referring back to their approaches as points of comparison.
Now all I have to do is figure out how to make this work with a series of online videos. Note to self – how do the best coursera courses do this?