Continuing the Conversation: OTL Presents on Teaching Without Lectures

During a facilitated discussion Wednesday morning on “Trends and How-to’s of Teaching without Lectures,” faculty participants raised many thought-provoking points regarding the merits and challenges of moving away from lecture-heavy delivery of course content. The conversation was offered as part of the college’s faculty professional development series.
  • Why do we lecture? Due to factors such as program history, curricular structures, and time constraints, lectures may seem to be the most pragmatic, straight-forward way of guaranteeing delivery of the curriculum as a whole. In addition, the prospect of receiving negative student feedback for trying non-lecture activities may be inhibiting to faculty.
Dr. James M. Lang advocates for starting with “small teaching” changes, or activities that can be incorporated rather easily at the individual class or lecture level. Another idea for experimenting with small changes is flipping a class or two by assigning learning materials for review outside of class, making use of small knowledge-checking activities, and leaving class time for additional knowledge-checking, reinforcement, and application. Mini-lectures are often used in alternative delivery methods for quick provision of essential information.
  • When and where would we consider incorporating non-lecture techniques, such as active learning? First take a look at your teaching goals and learning outcomes, then consider how those outcomes are best assessed. Brainstorm what kinds of activities and materials you can offer to your students so they achieve the learning outcomes. We call this process Backward Design.
  • What is active learning? Activities in which students actively engaging with knowledge and application. Some techniques include Problem-Based Learning (PBL), Team-Based learning (TBL), and Think-Pair-Share (TPS). See this link for additional techniques.
  • How do innovative instructional approaches affect grading? It’s worth looking at whether your exam questions align with learning outcomes. You might also ask the following: Is an exam really the best method for assessing student achievement of the intended learning outcomes? If not, how can exam questions be restructured to promote learning above the recall level? Are grades given to students on exams really indicative of their outcome achievement? If not there may be a better way to measure student learning. Is student learning better assessed with competencies than grades alone?
If you are interested in learning more and/or having additional conversations, please feel free to contact Teaching and Learning at You can also find the resources from the session in this Top Hat course.

Resources: Trends and How-To’s on Teaching Without Lectures

Teaching and Learning hosted a discussion with faculty and teaching staff regarding the merits of didactic lectures, the role and pitfalls of PowerPoint-dependent deliveries, and the advent of modern classroom pedagogical applications such as active learning. You can find the resources at this public Top Hat course.


Tips to Improve the Academic Lecture

OSU Department of Psychology instructor Anne Wilson typically found herself teaching in classrooms designed for didactic lecture. Then she had the opportunity to deliver her introductory psychology course in one of the university’s new active learning spaces.

That classroom, designed in much the same way as CVM’s new active learning classroom in VMAB, forced her to consider certain questions:
• Is active learning always better than lecturing?
• When should someone want or need to lecture?
• Is good lecturing better than bad lecturing?
• What makes a great lecture?

Great lectures, Wilson suggested during a Teaching Academy event on May 4, tell a story, use visual aids effectively and always consider the audience.

According to Wilson, storytelling in lectures makes the content more meaningful and memorable. The power of a story is evident when we consider our favorite childhood books and still remember their lessons decades later.

Faculty can define a unified meaning or message in a lecture and use their own stories or students’ stories to sequence content, promote discussion on or focus review of facts and concepts. Moreover, the stories behind academic studies — the Stanford Prison experiment, for example – “hook” a finding in the mind of the listener.

She also recommended including video and images in lectures to address the “Multimedia Principle”: People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone. At the same time, lecturers must concentrate on reducing cognitive load based on the “Coherence Principle,” which posits that people learn better when extraneous material is excluded.

(While students may clamor for fully loaded slides at CVM, putting all content on presentation slides doesn’t really do them much good from a learning perspective.)

Wilson also reviewed the “Signaling Principle,” which suggests learning is enhanced if instructors provide cues for how to process information. Small actions – like developing presentation slides with the assistance of an instructional designer – can accomplish this task by using tables, bolding key terms, or sequentially presenting data on graphs during an explanation so students’ attention is guided.

Ultimately, content that does not support or promote the central message of the lecture should be eliminated.

Assessing the students’ prior knowledge, laying a foundation of facts, and then making connections between new content and what the students already know also contributes to a deeper learning experience.

Wilson was just one of several engaging presenters at the University Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s annual conference. To review other resources, visit The Office of Teaching & learning particularly recommends the slides from the keynote address.

Learner Participation and Rewards

Recent issues of Faculty Focus have tackled the challenge of learner participation and offering rewards for engagement.

In “Encouraging Student Participation: Why It Pays to Sweat the Small Stuff,” Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D. suggests asking yourself a few questions:

How often do you ask questions and when do you ask them? At the end of class isn’t optimum because students anticipate a break or want to leave a few minutes early. The purpose of the question might encourage participation, especially if it previews how you will test mastery.

How long do you wait for an answer? Most presenters wait 2 to 3 seconds but feel as if they wait 10 to 12 seconds. While waiting may feel uncomfortable, it has advantages, specifically allowing for participants to think about complex topics and encouraging responses.

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The Not-So-Simple Task of Posing Questions During Lectures

Here’s a multiple-choice question for faculty members faced with a rows upon rows of students in large-enrollment classes.

What happens when you pose a question during a lecture?

A. So many hands shoot up I couldn’t possibly call on anyone in particular.
B. I use TopHat to collect responses.
C. Someone in the front row usually shouts out the answer.
D. Nothing.
E. Depending on the class or the day, all of the above.

Most faculty use questions to informally test for comprehension, to guide students from one concept to another related concept, to check for attentiveness, or to encourage student engagement with the material. Questioning seems such a natural part of teaching and learning that we rarely give it much thought; however, certain practices can increase faculty effectiveness, student engagement, and student comprehension. Continue reading