Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Lecture is Dead! Long Live the Lecture!

All over the place you hear and read about people who are against the lecture.

And yet it seems like many students want more quality lecturing.

For example, take the calculus class that I teach. This is Calculus Lite and not Real Calculus. It's a coordinated course, and we are all supposed to be doing roughly the same thing. We all use the same textbook. We all use WebAssign.

I don't make my students come to class. I post the notes on Blackboard ahead of time. My very detailed review sheet (and all my old exams) are on Blackboard. I follow the presentation in the book. On WebAssign there is a "Read it!" option where it will pop up on the screen the page of the textbook with a similar example completely worked out. And there is a "Watch it!" option that will bring up a window with a screencast of some dude solving the problem. And finally there is a "Chat about it!" option where the pop up window has a text chat with someone (probably in India) who will help the student solve the problem. I told my students where to buy a DVD of really good calculus lectures for $40 or so. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to come to class. Zero. With the book, the notes, the old exams, and all the help available on WebAssign, there just doesn't seem to be a lot of value-added of having to show up two days a week to watch me talk about calculus. And yet a large number of students show up.

Most of the time when students complain about a course, they are complaining about a lack of lecturing.

When classes involve a lot of non-lecture, I tend to hear a lot of complaints of the form, "I wish she would just tell us how to do the problems!"

And today I got a complaint about a calculus class that is much like mine. Uses the same readable book. Uses the same WebAssign software with the videos and all that. If there were a math class where you could learn by just reading the book and taking advantage of the online materials, this would be it.

And yet the complaints were about the quality (or the perceived lack thereof) of the lecturing. Instead of just skipping class and using all of the other resources (of which there are many), the students want there to be a decent lecture.