Though I appreciate Lang having a chapter on lecturing, I have to say that I find the whole concept of 'lecturing' rather alien to my own teaching style. I rarely think of preparing a class meeting as preparing 'a lecture,' and very little of my class meetings revolve around me talking. (This isn't to say that I'm not the main voice in the classroom, but that I think of myself mostly as initiating inquiry or conversation rather than expounding ideas.) In some respects, my own approach echoes Lang's advice: vary your teaching methods within a given meeting, take frequent breaks for student interaction or to see and hear something else, check in with students to gauge their understanding, give students a change to digest and review material before moving on, etc. So although I'm sure I could do better on this score, I like to think I do fairly well in not making, well, 'lecture' be this passive, teacher-focused enterprise. Hence, an initial question I'd be interested in having comments on is whether any of you even think of ourself as delivering lectures in anything like the traditional sense.
As with the prior chapters, there's lot of solid, practical advice here, such as the communication tips about using one's voice, motion, etc. Let me make three points that struck me as I read:
- Lang is insightful about students taking notes in class and how it's very easy for us to proceed too quickly. (This is one of the definite downsides of PowerPoint, as we've discussed before.) This problem tempts me simply to provide printed notes to the students, but Lang is probably right that having to write something down is at least active and is likely to stimulate some minimal level of recall or understanding. One thing I do now to slow things down, while still giving the students the ooh!aah! of technology, is to use the computer projector in my classroom as a kind of typewriter. I boot it up, open Microsoft Word, and type the important items from my prepared notes into a document that the students all see projected on the screen. I also like this because Word is easier to modify than, say, PowerPoint, so I can change arguments, etc. quickly.
- This chapter returns me to a theme I've hit on before: teaching versus learning. The chapter is excellent on teaching via lectures and has some advice on how to help students learn from lectures. But I felt that Lang left a glaring question unaddressed: Do students know how to learn from lectures? Lang notes (pp. 75-76) that students will write down practically everything that's written down, but will write down very little that's said. In my experience, many students write down all and only what's written on a chalkboard, etc. So if I critique an argument, or a student raises an objection, etc., almost nobody writes this sort of thing down. This is particularly regrettable since, in the philosophy classroom, that rational give-and-take is precisely what we're aiming to teach. Part of the problem is disciplinary: Students don't appreciate that this give-and-take is part of what we expect them to master. But I also think that no one ever shows students how to learn from the typical college lecture. Or am I wrong about this?
- Lang recognizes that how lectures will unfold will vary from discipline to discipline. He says that the functions of lectures are to summarize, highlight, and clarify. (p. 73) Doubtless when I 'lecture', summarizing, highlighting, and clarifying are among the activities I engage in. But I also do a lot more: reason, wonder, analyze, show relevance, invite debate, etc. This is especially true when an argument is the focus of the lecture. Note that summarizing, highlighting, and clarifying are very instructor-based, verdictive activities. They're not really about inquiry (though they might be part of inquiry). In short, a philosophy lecture is very often a form of guided inequiry. It would be great to hear from commenters some ideas as to how 'lecture arguments' effectively, for it does strike me that this present challenges beyond the challenges of summarizing, highlighting, and clarifying ideas.