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Giving Effective Lectures

Lectures are useful to convey knowledge at the basic levels of Bloom’s taxonomy – i.e. Remembering and Understanding. Lectures can show how experts in a field think, how they approach questions, and how they try to solve a problem.

Yet in traditional lectures, students are mostly passive and their attention span decreases significantly after 15 to 20 minutes. Hence, traditional lecturing may not be suitable for higher levels of learning - i.e. Apply, Analyse, Evaluate, and Create. 
 
Nonetheless,  lectures can be made interactive to intellectually engage and involve students as active participants. Interactive lectures are designed where the instructor incorporates learning activities throughout the lecture so that students participate in a way that  lets them engage directly with the material.
 
Here are some strategies to deliver an interactive lecture.
  1. Preparation and organisation
    • Ensure the materials are relevant to students - Assess the students’ background knowledge of the topic, i.e. which concepts and principles will be new information to students, and develop the materials specifically relevant. 
    • Outline the lecture notes - Make the organisation of the lecture clear and list major points rather than writing out the lecture to be read verbatim. To help students perceive organisation, use verbal signposts (e.g. “My fifth and final point….”), or compare and contrast (“What is the difference between analysis and synthesis?”).
    • Choose examples carefully - A relevant, concrete example (familiar and meaningful to students) may help far more than paragraphs of abstract or theoretical description.
    • Use appropriate multimedia and technology (e.g., slides, audio, websites, demonstrations and experiments).
       
  2. Presentation and clarity
    • Deliver the points with the listener in mind: Use simple words, short sentences, and a conversational style of speaking. As much as possible, present the information both visually and orally. 
    • Review the major points from the last lecture: At the start of each lecture, review quickly, then ask if there are any questions about the material covered in the last class. 
    • Connect the new information with previous content: Periodically repeat major points and help students see how concepts relate to each other.
    • Pace the presentation according to the complexity of the material: Stop periodically and let students ask questions relevant to the topic, make comments, or ask for review.
    • Look at students, move around, and be enthusiastic: Communicate that you value what you are lecturing about.
       
  3. Feedback  and interaction
    • Stop and ask them questions if there is perception that students are confused:  Their answers should be more than simply repetition of what is said. Ask the question clearly (do not ask multiple questions together), and give students time to think. Use 1-minute paper - Near the end of class, ask students to write their response to “What is the most important thing you have learned in this class?” or “What is the most confusing point in the lecture?” to obtain feedback about what students are, or are not, learning.
       
    • Question-based outlines
      Design the lecture in the form of a question-based outline or discussion question prompts. Rather than simply presenting the information, questions are asked to draw the information from students. Students have to actively research the answer instead of receiving it from the instructor. Be mindful that some students may need prodding and guidance often. 
       
    • Discussion question prompts
      Use broader discussion questions to provide students with an outline of the objectives for the topic. These objectives specify to students what they are expected to understand and help them focus on broader thematic issues. The discussion question prompts are useful when the instructor would rather discuss important topics instead of presenting information. Students are expected to learn the basic information on their own (e.g. from reading resources provided).
       
    • Small group discussions
      The questions are designed to assist students in understanding the course content. In small groups of three to four students, students discuss the questions. They may be asked to consider different viewpoints, make judgments about an argument, or question assumptions. The groups then share their discussions with the class. Provide students with ground rules for conducive learning environment.

Bibliography

  1. Cashin, W.E. (2010) Effective Lecturing. The IDEA Center, IDEA Paper #46. Manhattan: Kansas State University. Available from: http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/IDEA_Paper_46.pdf  [Accessed 16 May 2014]
  2. Huerta, J. (2007). Getting Active in the Large Lecture. Journal Of Political Science Education, 3(3), 237-249.

Last updated on 24 Apr 2017 .