An Excellent Lecture? Yes, It Can Be Done!

Lecture hall

From Wikimedia

In my last blog post, I mentioned I’d be using the COPUS protocol in my classroom observations this semester. I am still impressed by how easy it is to use the spreadsheet, which has enabled me to focus on the activities of an instructor and a class full of students for an entire class period.

The COPUS protocol was designed for observing STEM classrooms, but I have found that it also works well for the humanities. In fact, I recently used it in an upper-division class (Origins of Christianity). The class enrolls about 100 students. Amazingly, the instructor taught for 75 minutes without using any visual aids (aside from writing three words on the chalkboard). He simply held his lecture notes and spoke as he roamed the room, explaining the historical context of the Book of Revelation. He sometimes paused to query students on material from previous classes or from the reading, and students would occasionally raise a hand to ask for clarification.

This professor teaches by lecturing, with no activities that could qualify as “active learning.” Was he effective? ABSOLUTELY. I was sitting in the back of the room, with a good view of most of the class. Nearly all of the students stayed focused and worked to take good notes for the entire 75-minute period. (I do confess to seeing a few students snoozing or texting, but only toward the end of class and only in the back of the room.) I remember much of what he talked about, and would have remembered more if I had done the reading or taken notes as he lectured.

I said this before in a previous post, but this episode has been a refreshing reminder that teaching techniques are not “good” or “bad.” We do not say that a pencil is responsible for an author’s brilliant or despicable writings; why should we say that a lecture is an inherently ineffective teaching tool? Instead, look at the teacher’s other attributes. Does he or she understand and love the topic? Have respect and empathy for students? Hold students to a high standard, and show how to achieve those standards? If the answer to all of these questions is “Yes,” then I am willing to bet he or she is a good teacher – whatever he or she chooses to do in the classroom.

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