Forty years ago this month, students in Paris started a movement of protests and strikes. May ’68.
Among French-speakers, the events are remembered as the onset of a cultural revolution of sorts (with both negative and positive connotations). As we reached the 40 year anniversary of those events, some journalists and commentators have looked back at the social changes associated with the Paris student revolts of May, 1968.
The May ’68 movement also had some pedagogical bases. Preparing an online course, these days, I get to think about learning. And to care about students.
As I was yet to be born at the time, May ’68 resonates more for generational reasons than pedagogical ones. But a Montreal journalist who observed some of those events 40 years ago has been talking about what she perceived as irrationality surrounding such issues as abolishing lecture-based courses («cours magistraux»).
This journalist’s reaction and a cursory comparison of the present situation with what I’ve heard of pre-1968 teaching both lead me on a reflection path about learning. Especially in terms of lecturing.
As a social constructivist, I have no passion for “straight lectures.” On occasion, I bemoan the fact that lecturing is (still) the primary teaching mode in many parts of the world. The pedagogical ideas forcefully proposed more than a generation ago are apparently not prevalent in most mainstream educational systems.
This is an especially difficult question for an idealist like me. We wish for change. Change happens. Then, some time later, changes have been reversed. Maybe more progressively. But, it seems, inexorably.
Sisyphean. Or, maybe, buddhist.
Is it really the way things work?
Possibly. But I prefer to maintain my idealism.
So… Before I was born, some baby-booming students in Paris revolted against teaching practises. We still talk about it. Nowadays, these teaching practises against which students revolted are apparently quite common in Paris universities. As they are in many other parts of the world. But not exactly everywhere.
Online learning appears more compatible with teaching methods inspired by social constructivism (and constructionism) than with “straight lecturing.” My idealism for alternative learning methods is fed partly by online learning.
Online lectures are possible. Yet the very structure of online communication implies some freedoms in the way lecture attendees approach these “teachings.”
At the very least, online lectures make few requirements in terms of space. Technically, a student could be watching online lectures while laying down on a beach. Beaches sound like a radically different context from the large lecture halls out of which some ’68ers decided to “take to the streets.”
Contrary to classroom lectures, online lectures may allow time-shifting. In some cases, prerecorded lectures (or podcasts) may be paused, rewinded, fastforwarded, etc. Learning for the TiVo generation?
Online lectures also make painfully obvious the problems with straight lecturing. The rigid hierarchy. Students’ relative facelessness. The lack of interactivity. The content focus. All these work well for “rote learning.” But there are other ways to learn.
Not that memorization plays no part in learning or that there is no value in the “retention of [a text’s] core information” (Schaefer 2008: xxi). It’s just that… Many of us perceive learning to be more than brain-stuffing.
As should be obvious from my tone and previous posts, I count myself as one of those who perceive lectures to be too restrictive. Oh, sure, I’ve lectured to large and medium-sized classrooms. In fact, I even enjoy lecturing when I get to do it. And I fully realize that there are many possible approaches to teaching. In fact, my observation is that teaching methods are most effective when they are adapted to a specific situation, not when they follow some set of general principles. In this context, lecturing may work well when “lecturer and lecturees are in sync.” When students and teacher are “on the same page,” lectures can be intellectually stimulating, thought-provoking, challenging, useful. Conversely, alternative teaching methods can have disastrous consequences when they are applied haphazardly by people who were trained with “straight lecturing” in mind. In fact, my perception is that many issues with Quebec’s most recent education reform (the “competency based program” about which Quebec parents have been quite vocal) are associated with the indiscriminate application of constructivist/constructionist principles to all learning contexts in the province. IMHO, a more flexible application of the program coupled with considerate teacher training might have prevented several of the problems which plagued Quebec’s reform.
Unlike ’68ers, I don’t want to abolish lectures. I just hope we can adopt a diversity of methods in diverse contexts.
Back in 1968, my father was a student of Jean Piaget, in Geneva. Many of Piaget’s ideas about learning were quite compatible with what Parisian students were clamoring for.
Beyond the shameless name-dropping, my mentioning Piaget relates to something I perceive as formative. Both in my educational and in my personal lives. My mother had much more of an impact on my life. But my father supplied me with something of the Piaget spirit. And this spirit is found in different places. Including online.
The compatibility between online learning and lecture-less teaching methods seems to be a topic for frequent discussions among eLearning circles including LearnHub, Ning, and the Moodle community. Not that online technology determines pedagogical methods. But the “fit” of online technology with different approaches to learning and teaching is the stuff constructionist teachers’ dreams are made of.
As I’ll be teaching online for several weeks, I’ll surely have many other things to say about these learning issues in a pseudo-historical context. In the meantime, I assume that this blogpost may bring me some thoughtful comments. 😉
14 thoughts on “And We're Still Lecturing”
Hi! Thanks for this prompt to think.
I think this is one of those places where a manifest and latent function analysis is begged for. When things fail to do what they’re manifestly for and yet people keep doing them, they must be latently successful for something else. Thus, the critique at the manifest level misses the mark.
What is lecture good for? Well, not education, or rather, education only in a very narrow sense. The transmission of knowledge, understood as data and dogma. What Freire called the ‘banking’ model of education. But lecture only succeeds at this for a very limited ‘sort’ of correctly-disposed student; the rest are left confused, excluded and sullen. Every lecture has its two or three ‘successes’ and its distribution of failures. But did the lecture fail, or did those students? So the lecture is a sorting mechanism.
At each level the lecture sorts more rigorously. What sort of success is produced by this sorting? A disciplined one; one who has internalized the habitus of authoritative knowledge-production. The other ways of teaching are for dilettantes.
@Carl Thanks for the comment. As you might expect, part of my intention was, in fact, to prompt you. 😉
Not sure about missing “the” mark, but I can clearly see what you mean. And there’s an institutional component to this. My guess is that individual teachers feel that they have to lecture, regardless of their own approaches to learning. The latent function you describe has more to do with the educational institution, not with teachers’ goals. Of course, many teachers have internalized the sorting function of teaching. Some of them even discuss it in class. But many of us end up with two different pressures: the “necessity” of sorting out students so that they can get to the next level (as in a videogame) and the “expectation” that a majority of students will have undergone a satisfying learning experience. In other words, the manifest function is the basis for a kind of peer pressure which is also internalized by a number of teachers. “I need to lecture efficiently so that my students can work through the material,” whether the lecture constitutes the primary mode of content transmission or serves as the basis for diverse learning strategies. Teachers may be forced to sort students (and some of us may realize that this sorting procedure is embedded as an outcome or even a function of our teaching methods), but teachers are also pushed to get as many students as possible to “learn (the material).” Since the two messages do come from positions of authority and since much of the situation is latent/hidden/unconscious, it’s probably relevant to bring the concept of double bind into play.
I think you may be caught up in your own desires to communicate in elearning communities because that is your comfort zone. That is fine but I think in your efforts to celebrate your visions, you might be overstating the case against the ways we humans have taught and learned for, dare I say, centuries. I think the meta-meaning and latent meanings of coming to a class and engaging in a dialogue is a tremendously meaningful form of human communication. I think thousands of people showed up at Obama’s Town Hall forum because they wanted to learn and participate. I don’t think anything will ever supplant that meaning, although many things can supplement it.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. You can throw all the extras in the mix that you want but in the end, it is all still about the dialogue.
That post was mostly about a disconnect. Through contexts in which pedagogy is discussed, straight lecturing is often brought up as the core thing which should change, in education. There have been many attempts at changing education systems, reforming “our ways,” and changing things up. After all, it’s part of the reasoning behind having an educational system. The latest attempts often have a lot to do with the tools we currently have, but those tools aren’t causing the changes. One might even say that these tools were made possible in part because of some very specific social processes which happened on a few university campuses where some of the pioneers of ICT were working. There’s a logic behind all of this. The shift is less like Kuhn’s scientific revolutions and more like a Foucault episteme. People create their own notion of a “wind of change” and set sail on it. The whole issue about participatory democracy isn’t that there’s a sudden shift happening which makes people’s wildest dreams come true. It’s that the conversation about participatory democracy is taking a new turn as people are dreaming up ways to empower themselves and converse with people who are truly empowered.
So it’s all oneiric.
On occasion, I do personally get caught up in those dreams. The equivalent of being “gone native” (regardless of what Forte thinks of that concept). Yet, that post was written in a voice which isn’t fully my own. It’s not fiction, but it was written as a stylistic exercise.
As for dialogue, it may not have been clear in this post but it’s pretty much my focus, these days. Including in ethnography.
Although, there’s a lot to be said about conversations.
I am glad you weren’t invoking Kuhn because then we would have got into a big debate about data, science and the quality of an argument, as opposed to assertion and emotion. Okay, sorry for the sarcasm. But seriously, surely (don’t call me, Shirley), you can’t continue to make “lecture” such a ridiculous straw man. You even added a qualifier “straight” to be able to make your point. If you are going to argue for this overwhelming need for change (which I do not conceed) then you are going to have to make a better case than demonizing lecture by willfully defining it as you choose. But by all means, sail on. Those of us in the water bob happily in your wake.
By the way, I didn’t come over here just randomly picking fights. Informalethnographer posted a link in the comments section of my blog. Seems we have revived the Wesch stuff, again. Although, honestly, I am rather bored with the dichotomous nature of the exchange so I am outa here.
Don’t have much time to fully read your replies and respond to them but, right away, heartfelt thanks for telling me “where you’re coming from.” It helps more than you might think.
As you probably know, “Informal Ethnographer” (or “iethnographer”) is a name I use for accounts having to do with discussions about ethnography. I linked to this post from the comments on your thread as a way to encapsulate a tangential discussion.
It’s a bit sad that you would like to disengage from this burgeoning dialogue. It could be fun to further discuss those important issues without boring you. Maybe that’ll happen with the thread on your own blog, though I don’t want to flood it either. The advantage there, though, is that the comment history balances it out so that it doesn’t look like a mere dialogue.
As for dichotomy and fights, I must admit that I’m unclear on what the “sides” are. We seem to have slightly different perspectives. My intention, in these discussions, isn’t to convince you or anybody else that my viewpoint is in any way better or more worthy of discussion. But it does seem important, in discussions, to expose our viewpoints as honestly and deeply as possible if anybody is to gain insight.
After all, isn’t the goal of academic research to gain insight?
We could certainly discuss Kuhn. Should be interesting. But I was using Foucault as a way to bring support to what you seemed to be saying, about continuity. In fact, the STS angle could be quite helpful, in this case. I’ve been rather surprised that, for instance, Actor-Network Theory and Social Construction of Technology (both of which would seem rather useful for tech-enthusiasts) seem relatively unknown in those circles where technology is perceived as a way to solve social issues. Including perceived problems about educational systems.
As for lecture as a “straw man,” I probably wasn’t clear but it was my main point in this discussion: if, as I would contend, there is such a contingent of educators who are so against lecturing, why are we still lecturing? It might be because lecturing is more appropriate than these educators say it is. It may be because there is top-down pressure to maintain lecturing as a way to reproduce some social structures. It may be because lecturing is being transformed anyway. Etc.
So, to be clear: I’m not opposed to lecturing. As I said, I don’t want to abolish lectures. I perceive several problems with lecturing, especially when it’s too exclusive a mode. But I’m not condemning it.
In fact, I do lecture pretty regularly and I consider it a rather important “mode” in terms of teaching activities.
Also, I make distinctions between “straight lecture” (which is a rather strict mode of “one-to-many” communication, with almost no direct, realtime interaction and, perhaps, limited self-awareness as to the impacts of the mode) and more flexible uses of lecturing techniques which may combine diverse methods affording varying degrees of direct, realtime interaction. I personally try not to remain in the “straight lecturing mode” for too long. I do this for a large number of reasons, not limited to the “boredom” scale underlining some comments on your blog and in that Chronicle piece. I do have some qualms about the use of lecturing as an exclusive method of teaching, but I can live with it. It’s simply not that compatible with my perspective on learning.
Mostly, I was conveying ideas about lecturing. I agree that it was somewhat confusing. I remember some of my trains of thought from that day. I would even say that it was at a turning point in my life. So, as is often the case with blogging, this post was as much about a personal context as about content.
Thanks a lot for passing by. Sorry for boring you.
You aren’t boring me but the debate can be boring. I am, actually, disconcerted with you using Foucault and not Kuhn. With Kuhn one feels that the preponderance of the evidence is pushing the paradigm shift with the Foucault metaphor as you state we just sail on. And here is where I think we have different perspectives. In my world, right now (at my large Community College) our new faculty go through orientation. They meet once a week for their first semester. They are told that “best practices” are collaborative learning techniques and not lecture. These new faculty have a Master’s of some sort with 18 graduate hours in their teaching field. Most don’t know a lot. In the old days, they had to write lectures. I would see them locked in their offices their first year working like mad to learn the stuff they didn’t know. This, IMHO, was a good thing. Not now. Now they devise projects and lead discussions about things they, themselves, don’t know. If students can teach themselves, why should they bother to learn? This, I think, is a bad thing.
I think this is not an intended consequence of the Wesch phenomenon but it is there. If you go back to the very first communication I had with him, you will find that I was spurred there by the pressure at my College to use his methods. So, I think you are wrong about the lecture format continuing. Unfortunately, it is increasingly treated with disdain which is why I so, fiercely, defend it. I really, really, am disturbed by how these ideas are playing out in my world. I think because (sorry, Max) you have “gone native” in the world of tech, you probably haven’t really thought about what this means when writ large. Think about this in the hands of an administrator with an EdD. Nuances and subtlety are lost, it is “make them do a wiki” and stop lecturing. Honest, honest, honest.
Sorry if I was snarky. I am trying to prepare for the semester and did not take the care I should when posting. I do value the dialogue. Although, I miss my spellcheck when I post here. I am a terrible typist.
Could I add that there are adjuncts teaching at 3-5 schools, as much as 13 courses. This is very common. I know many doing this. Not lecturing is a get-out-of-jail free card for them. Integrity goes by the wayside when struggling to survive, as many adjuncts are.
Again, thank you so much for this. At the risk of sounding overly emotional (as a musician, am I not allowed to be oversensitive?), I should say that it touched me. Mostly because of my own context, actually. You didn’t come down so hard but I was a bit unprepared and did feel like we were talking about different things.
As it so happens, I have thought long and hard about what the anti-lecture backlash implies. In fact, the issue was one basis for this post. Though, in it, I give much more of a voice to the anti-lecture side, I’ve spent a good deal of time interacting with notions and people on the pro-lecture side. The thing people seem to forget about “going native” is that it can be temporary. For instance, a fieldworker may start entertaining some strange notions while in the field and still retain her/his critical thinking. One thing Maximilian seems to have a problem with is the notion that the risk of “going native” is enough to prevent people from truly engaging. My experience is that it’s actually pretty easy to “come back from native.” Partly because native status can be problematized. We can “drink the kool-aid” and know that the kool-aid only has an effect if we reify it.
So, to go back to the anti-lecture “movement.” I’ve both observed and participated in it. I’ve also been critical of it in the sense that I’ve voiced concerns about what I perceived to be dogmatic versions of it. And I’ve had enough problems with some EdD people in different places to know exactly what you mean. (I’ve been attending and giving workshops on teaching at diverse institutions, even presenting in a PhD seminar on teaching. Not that I’m saying that this makes me a specialist. It’s just a bit of context. Almost a disclaimer.)
My first semester of teaching was impacted deeply and negatively because of some perspectives on education that I found troublesome (on the part of alleged experts in learning and teaching). Several of my blogposts on teaching have been about the issues surrounding the distance between pedagogical ideas and (often forced) implementation by individuals whose perspective might be a bit limited (being based on the individual). In other words, I’ve been through so many educational reforms as a student and I care enough about real discussions on pedagogy that I’m quite weary of the attempts to force all teachers to teach a certain way.
As in Perl, “there is more than one way.” Getting anyone (including Mike himself) to teach like a given version of “Michael Wesch” is likely to fail because it has no guarantee of being contextually appropriate. Not only am I skeptical of blanket applications of any given model for behaviour, but I perceive learning and teaching to be much more of a negotiation than what EdD textbooks may make it to be.
One thing to keep in mind is that the relationship between “teacher orientation” and what teachers end up doing isn’t univocal. The most effective teachers may well be those who take what they learnt through orientation with a grain of salt. Actually, my guess would be that those who care about teaching often get the intended results, regardless of what their chosen method may end up being. McCourt’s Teacher Man was intriguing in this respect.
The implications of understanding learning through constructivism are quite varied. Some people do take it to the extreme of not caring so much about working with teachers when, say, they build a program to sell laptops to governments so that children get into this whole thing about individual property and ownership of keyboard-based tools. My own variant can be quite radical too, but I use it to motivate colleagues, not to make them feel irrelevant: “learning happens despite teachers.” (But what people learn may not be appropriate so it’s more of a matter of “channeling” the learning experiences instead of transmitting data over to students.) Anyone who’s motivated and given the opportunity can learn. Some are more efficient than others (obviously, there are many social factors behind these differences). But anyone can learn. Even people with serious cognitive impairments. There might be some correlation between “good teaching” and success rates (especially in terms of tests and other forms of assessment designed for such institutional contexts). Administrators like to think that it’s possible to produce “great students” with getting what they perceive to be “great teachers.” But I’m not so sure about how valid this model is, especially in terms of university teaching. Not saying that it’s necessary invalid. But there’s a significant number of counterexamples and postulating a direct causal relationship is the kind of thing that some people who read Gladwell’s Outliers may be tempted to do.
You mention some things about knowledge of the material, on the part of teachers. There’s an interesting opposition between subject specialization and pedagogy. In Diigo comments on the piece about Bowen, someone was lamenting about a lecturer who thought s/he didn’t need to care about pedagogy because s/he was a subject specialist. I understand the commenter’s perspective but I also understand the point of view of someone who says that university students aren’t supposed to need pedagogues in front of them. That’s actually a fairly common perspective among some French professors I know. Same thing about the reverse perspective: those who say that a true pedagogue could teach anything. Even an expert occasionally wanders outside of her/his domain of expertise, on occasion. On some of those occasions, students may even be the ones who complement the teacher’s knowledge. Learning may occur. In fact, it may be very deep learning, as happens so often in our seminars.
As you might expect, my perspective does allow for teaching outside of one’s field. It can be challenging, but there are ways to make it work. Some of my favourite “teaching moments” happened in such contexts. And when I teach about material i know too well, things can be difficult for students and for myself as I struggle with getting to know what’s hard for most students to grasp. Basic musical concepts in an anthropology of music course were a case in point. Same thing happens in formal teaching of someone’s native language.
I recently had to teach a course one week after signing the contract. I knew part of the material but I was still “flying by the seat of my pants.” It worked quite well and a good deal of learning did happen. By all.
I don’t typically use spellcheckers, English isn’t my native language and I’m typing this on an iPod touch. I’d apologize for the typos if I were a prescriptivist.
For the past several years, most of my teaching has been as some kind of “adjunct” (“visiting lecturer,” «chargé de cours», “online instructor,” “part-time faculty”…). I’ve heard a lot of things from fellow part-timers, with frequent comments about tenured or tenure-track profs. Lots of bitterness. Much more so than in a cup of 100% robusta coffee.
Along with being a full-time high school teacher working with students with learning disabilities, my father was also teaching pedagogy part-time at the two main French-speaking universities, here in Montreal. His perspective was quite different. His university courses were a way to bring his expertise to would-be teachers. He’d bring cases from his high school class to serve as the basis for discussion with his university students, some of which went on to teach at schools where I studied. Again, this is just a way to provide some background on my own perspective.
I enjoy being a part-timer. Sure, I have very limited “job security.” But who has that, nowadays? Besides, it gives me a lot of academic and personal freedom, as I’m not tied to a single university. In fact, I’ve had the “privilege” of teaching at eight different post-secondary institutions (from a prestigious university in the Northeast to a hospital in Texas and public universities in Canada). It all was a tremendous experience that I wouldn’t have had if I had been a full-timer.
Not to mention that I can avoid several of the truly troubling issues with the “publish or perish” tenure-track system. I’ve been close to several people going on the academic rat race and I can’t say I envy them.
At research universities where I taught, it has been my experience that full-time profs tend not to devote that much time thinking about issues related to their teaching, at least not in courses outside of their very specific areas of research expertise. Not that they don’t teach well or that they don’t care about teaching. Just that few of them ever spend any time discussing pedagogical issues.
The situation was quite different at “comprehensive” institutions, including at IUSB. Granted, I was there in a very specific capacity: a full-time visiting lecturer through the “Future Faculty Teaching Fellowship.” One thing I noticed is the significance of the Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching. It exists on other IU campuses, including Bloomington. But the way it was integrated with the South Bend campus was really remarkable. But, again, I’m probably biased. Both of my mentors (Becky Torstrick and Scott Sernau) were FACET members.
IOW, there are campuses where full-timers do care about the specifics of learning. And some of these are remarkable scholars in their own right.
Now, part-timers… Since our core responsibilities revolve around teaching, one might think that we actually spend a good deal of time fine-tuning our teaching strategies. And there are some part-timers who do “work on their teaching,” discussing pedagogical issues and trying to improve their courses. As a matter of fact, I’ve met a good number of these at Concordia (my “main affiliation,” currently). Part of this happens through “teaching centres” such as Concordia’s CTLS. Still, even at Concordia, there are many part-timers who don’t get the opportunity to involve themselves so deeply in other dimensions of their teaching besides course preparation. As elsewhere, there are some “political” issues and some part-timers end up in even more difficult situations than the general PTF membership.
At other institutions, part-timers work under remarkably lousy conditions. In fact, places where I taught alongside people who were actually labeled “adjuncts” gave so few resources to those part-timers that it favoured a form of “drive-by teaching.”
One issue in most part-timers’ cases, is that there are few external incentives to “work on teaching.” Not only is there no financial incentive but there isn’t any real support for those part-time teachers who make efforts to make their teaching strategies appropriate and relevant.
People tend to focus on finance and it’s relatively easy to understand why. Disparities between institutions, in terms of salaries, are quite striking. A friend at YorkU was telling that they get 12kCAD a course, there. At Concordia, we went from 5.5kCAD to 7kCAD. In the US, I’ve made as little as little as 1.9kUSD oer course and 5.5kUSD was actually the highest I got for a course. (All of these are for 3-credit courses.) So, it can be as much as six times the amount for, allegedly, the same amount of work, depending on where you teach (and not on how you teach). With less than 2kUSD per course, it’s almost impossible to survive solely on teaching. For those adjuncts who, like my father at the time and several of my colleagues, the per-course remuneration may be a supplement to a regular salary. In my case, it might end up being a complement to other sources of income (including contracts in the private sector). The main point is, the salary isn’t what motivates one to be a better teacher.
But there are other ways to help teachers “work on their teaching.” Including by making the teaching centre a more significant part of campus. Or building something of a “teaching community,” getting would-be teachers to interact with more experienced ones, organizing teaching-related events, offering non-monetary rewards to effective teachers, promoting the work of those teachers who seem to be doing something different, ensuring that individual teachers aren’t overloaded, doing exchange programs to get teachers from different institutions to get a broader perspective, modifying hiring practises, de-emphasising PhDs, allow for teaching teams to be created, etc. Sure, there are issues with any of these. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
One thing I’d like to see: a system for teaching professors. Not necessarily as a replacements for part-timers but something which could be an improvement over the current condition of adjuncts and other part-time teachers. In fact, it would help differentiate “actual adjuncts” (as professionals who teach part-time as a way to share their expertise) and full-time university teachers who work outside of the tenure-track system. The model about which I’ve heard some discussion was based on something like a 5-year contract renewable every year. Not only would it offer a lot more job security than part-time teachers currently afford, but it would allow for continuity in teaching. Part-timers may teach the same courses regularly and recognized as “owning” those courses, but the current system doesn’t really allow for course development over the years. In fact, such a system could easily generate enthusiasm about teaching and help create a true community of teachers which might also include research-focused tenured professors. In fact, if done well, it could serve as a competitive advantage, for universities which have anything about actual learning in their non-official mission (which may be a smaller number of institutions than those which merely have a vague commitment to teaching in their official mission statement; a clear case for the manifest/latent functions).
To be honest, I think that Concordia would be a very appropriate place for this. Sure, I’m biased. But I was participating in several activities related to Concordia’s recent strategic planning and, apart from some hype and the usual concerns by people who have axes to grind, I could perceive something which might provide an appropriate basis for a thoughtful approach to teaching.
Yes, I may be an idealist. But if I made someone think, I did my job.