Why I avoid lecturing when I lead and teach

Science Magazine’s daily web page, reported research that “Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds.”
I agree, especially after decades of learning from teachers lecturing on me compared with inquiry-driven project-based learning, which I wrote about recently, “Inquiry-driven project-based learning rocks!,” and have been learning about for years. I shared the following on an online discussion about that article.

I used inquiry-driven project-based learning — https://joshuaspodek.com/inquiry-driven-project-based-learnin… — to teach my class at NYU-Poly, “Entrepreneurial Marketing and Sales” this semester.

Experiential learning rocks! I never want to go back to lecturing.

I had only recently learned of the teaching style, mainly from a K-12 education conference where I was the only university professor, which KQED reported on — http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/03/can-university-profe…. After the conference I redid the syllabus to replace lectures and texts with the students and I getting to understand each other to connect the material to their lives to motivate them and so I could help them create projects they’d care about because they’d be connected to their lives.

The results:

  • The students loved the class.
  • Over half of them are continuing the class projects after the course ended.
  • Several reported me the best professor and the class the best class they took.
  • The students are getting together to create a video about the class even after it ended.

As much as I’d like to brag, the credit goes to the teaching style.

Engaging students with empathy and helping direct them to personal projects connected to their lives works better than any lecture, at least in my experience. It was a lot more engaging, fun, and educational for me too.

The core, to me, is to see the students as the most important consideration and the content lower, the opposite of the lecture model. With the internet, the students can find any information they want at any time. Lecturing wastes their time. My value is in connecting with them, helping direct them, sharing my experience, and holding them accountable — more like a manager or colleague in the world.

Someone asked a few questions, which I addressed. Their questions:

How do you avoid having students stick to what they are familiar and comfortable with?

How do you ensure students get a broad understanding of the subject?

In my experience the major difference between hiring self directed learners and people who studied cs in college is the lack of breadth in self directed learners. Great python/js/php web dev who has never heard of pointers or a priority queue?

My response:

Great questions.

I can’t speak on avoiding what they’re familiar with generally, but my strategy was to make the deliverable for most sub-projects a five-minute presentation on their results to the rest of the class. I reasoned that presentations are critical for marketing, sales, and entrepreneurship in general, and that the students had very limited presentation experience so the format would give them experience. Then I followed many presentations with students meeting one-on-one to give advice to each other.

Public presentations with feedback are accountability tools that force them to do thorough, quality work, to pay attention to each other, to see how others tackle similar challenges, and to develop communication skills. Several of them were scared to present at first but then reported improving presentation skills as one of the most important parts of the class. They grew a lot in that area.

I also made deliverables similar to real-world problems. I assigned them to talk to people in the field, even experts in the field, which forced them to prepare (I didn’t just throw them to the wolves. We worked up to that by having them practice with classmates and then friends and family to develop their business communication skills).

Regarding breadth, I told them at the beginning of class something like this: “Even the best salespeople learn sales their whole lives. Nothing anyone can do can make you the worlds’ best salesperson or marketer in one semester. You’ll always have more to learn. If you became the best, you’d probably keep learning faster. My goal in this class is to develop in you the skill to improve yourself by finding out what you need to know and learning it — to improve the slope of your learning more than the y-intercept.”

The most important tool was having them act, not just listen or read. I can’t comment on how things will go for them in the future, but they’ve already hit major business challenges and learned how to overcome them, like how to find an expert in the field and get him on the phone. Each saw others do it. Their barriers are lower. If they have depth without breadth and they need it, I hope they’ll figure out how to get that breadth. The class is only a semester so we couldn’t cover everything no matter what.

By the way, they weren’t purely self-directed learners. I created the course structure and they never worked more than a week without oversight.

Incidentally, I don’t claim to have mastered inquiry-driven project-based learning, only that it’s gone great so far. I expect to keep learning my skills in it forever. Part of why I’m posting at such length here is to try to find or create community of people who work similarly. I saw how much the K-12 IDPBL community helps each other. I hope university IDPBL teachers do too.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. David Lloyd-Jones

    The McMaster, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Method of running a medical school — later picked up by Harvard Medical, and known in the US without any reason at all as “The Harvard Medical School Model” — is based on a series of scientific findings about lectures, attention, and All That Stuff.
    Layman’s Version: The arse goes to sleep after 18 minutes. I don’t know all the details, but had a doc girlfriend who taught there, and apparently there’s enough science behind it that the 18 minute thing is held Holy.
    TED’s 15-minute format seemed to work pretty well, at least back when they had good material.

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