Dear Professors: Stop Lecturing. Now.

When I first started teaching, I incorporated mini-lectures about authors and about the various historical or social contexts in which our texts were written in order to guide my class to new insights about a text. It seemed logical to explain big concepts, just as I’m sure it seemed logical to many of my former professors at university to tell their captive audience insights like: Gender is a construct; no book, poem or song exists in a vacuum; you don’t know as much as you think you know.

The problem with this lecturing – even on a micro scale – is that it deprives students of the thinking process that goes into discovering; it also works to limit new ideas and it reinforces the idea that the instructor is the holder of knowledge who is there to dispense wisdom to students. I no longer lecture, simply because I know that students don’t need me to do so. What they need is a facilitator: Someone who can guide their thinking through questioning, and someone who can organize discussion in the classroom.

Why Professors Won’t Stop Lecturing

Students are capable of generating knowledge for themselves; research suggests that students are more likely to retain information that they discover for themselves; it has been my experience that students have more fun when they’re engaged in this process and not in a reclining pose poised to receive information from the person at the front of the classroom. Even so, the lecture will likely live on. Here’s why:

  • The lecture is easy option for attempting to meet the needs of 150 students packed into a lecture hall. It’s much harder, and more time-consuming, to press students to deepen their thinking through questioning. Those who lecture can simply say “well, I explained it,” and relieve themselves of any further involvement in student learning.
  • Professors like this who don’t believe that it’s their job to teach, but genuinely believe that they are the keepers of knowledge.
  • Professors are awarded for research above teaching. Unfortunately for students, many professors will not have sufficient incentive to refine their teaching strategies, and their lectures will live on.
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