Lectures in a writing class. Oh my!

Today, I am correcting proofs for a teaching note that will soon appear along with my lecture-tutorial on tone in Journal of Organizational Behavior Education. The paper explains the teaching philosophy behind use of video lecture-tutorials like those I have been posting here at ProsWrite. (Click on the tab to view the complete collection on the Videos page.)

I know lectures are criticized as ineffective pedagogy. (Replace “ineffective” with any of the following: archaic, passive, egotistical, and so on.) And lectures are ESPECIALLY maligned in a performance-based writing course.  When I viewed the student responses to the LectureFail Project at the Chronicle of Higher Education, it was clear that the complaints focused almost exclusively on professors’ presentation skills, including the misuse of PowerPoint.

In an enlightened and persuasive editorial in Inside Higher Ed a couple of years back, Adam Kotsko defended the use of lectures

. . . as long as they’re used in a conscious way. They have the possibility of covering up the flaws of lazy or unengaged educators in some cases, but then so does the discussion model — showing up with the book in hand and asking, “So what’d you think?” arguably takes even less work than delivering a decades-old lecture.

Like Kotsko, I find nothing inherently wrong with lecturing.  In fact, I have lectured in writing courses since I began teaching.  Now, I have never spent an entire class period lecturing. I normally lecture in something like 15-minute blocks.  The remainder of our class meeting is devoted to discussion of readings or homework, group work, individual writing tasks, student presentations, quizzes, and so on. My visuals are more visual than verbal.  (And that’s tough in a writing course!) I have been told I’m mildly charismatic. My lectures probably aren’t exactly inspiring or entertaining as that’s just not my style. But very few students have said they were ineffective, archaic, passive, or egotistical either. And they are always somewhat interactive.

<begin side bar> For a few years, I taught in a mass lecture with hundreds of students, who also met in small groups in a studio setting. The mass lecture is where the photo in this post was taken. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to lecture to hundreds of students about writing topics. Or any other topics. Those of you who know me know I’m all about individuals and relationships.  I did eventually figure out we could accomplish the same goals as the mass lectures by providing short video lecture-tutorials. The teaching note is partly about why just-in-time lectures are pedagogically valuable in a professional writing class. <end side bar>

What lecturing does is allow me to guide my students’ thinking about what I have already or soon will ask them to read (like the textbook or sample documents) or do (like complete exercises or interview a client) outside of class.  Kotsko argues,

A lively discussion of a book by a small, engaged group is an ideal to be  aspired to. At the same time, it seems to me that such discussions are pretty rare, even among professional academics (note how often people will express surprise that a conference session had good discussion). Such skills need to be cultivated, and of course you can only learn by doing. Yet there are some base-level confidence issues that need to be addressed as well, and unless we want to cultivate students who believe that their every utterance is  intrinsically worthwhile due to their precious snowflake-hood, it would probably be good to get them to a point where their confidence is earned, where it’s based in actual knowledge.

The vast majority of my students are not ready to complete the tasks I have set for them. As amateurs, they need a scaffold to stand on. My lectures provide that foundation.  When the students no longer need that foundation, I shut up.

So I’m gonna keep lecturing thank you very much!

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