TITLE: Being There
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: May 15, 2008 9:15 AM
I sometimes talk about lecture (say,
as not being the optimal way for students to learn.
That doesn't mean that I don't think it lecture has
value at all. I still lecture, though I prefer to
punctuate my disquisition with occasional problem
breaks, during which students try out some idea.
Without those breaks, the active learning they afford,
and the feedback they can give students about where
they stand, I sometimes wonder how much value being
in class with me for seventy-five minutes has.
It turns out that there is probably value even in
"just listening". Mark Guzdial
work by a psychology grad student that explains the
relationship between learning and reading text,
hearing narration, and viewing images. Most people
learn more efficiently when they hear an explanation
while looking at text, code, or diagrams. If they
read the same explanation while looking at the text,
code, or diagrams, it will take them longer to learn
the material to the same depth.
So, coming to class and hearing a good lecture can be
a good investment of time. It jump-starts the brain.
Of course, the student still needs to read and work
through problems at home later, too. Reading and
solving problems give the mind an opportunity to
rehearse and to process material more deeply. The
result of listening to lecture followed by intense
study can be a powerful form of learning.
I encourage students to take advantage of all their
modalities. Augmenting lecture with opportunities
for practice and feedback gives them a strong
combination of learning styles in class. Then, as
often as I can, I provide students with written notes
that contain both my explanations and the in-class
exercises we did. This allows them to recall their
in-class experience as much as possible. On the
occasion when students really must miss class, they
can get a flavor of what happened in class, but
reading the notes is a poor substitute for experiencing
the class live. Then, I assign readings from a text
or other sources that supplements the material with
cover in class with a different presentation. Finally,
I ask students to do a significant amount of project
work, which gives them the chance to learn how to
do while exercising the knowledge of the material in
ways that make connections in their minds. I hope
that this multi-faceted approach maximizes student
opportunities to learn deeply and come to appreciate
what they learn.