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July 18, 2005


Mr. Bad

Hugo said this: "One thing that would improve college teaching immensely would be mandatory drama and speech classes for all new faculty. Forget the expensive technology. Teach them how to use their voices, how to modulate their tones, how to string together an exciting narrative without notes. Teach them to make the passion that is surely inside them manifest in their words and in their movements. Teach them the forgotten art of the genuinely engaging lecture. Twelve years of college teaching (and over 120 classes taught in that time), as well as thousands of student evaluations, have made it clear to me that students really prefer a professor who is willing to bring his passion and energy into the classroom."

This is a depressingly shallow point of view Hugo. Sure, having a dynamic lecturer is better than relying on filmstrips (once again, I date myself) to teach, but there's more to teaching than simply presentation.

I've had some really boring classes, some taught by poeple with the personality of a 2 X 4, but others taught by animated, engaged, "dynamic" profs who ulitmately had nothing intersting to say. They presented the material in an entertaining, engaging fashion, but at the end of the day, the material was, well, immaterial. And IMO, this is one of the big problems with academia these days: We've dumbed-down the curricula to the point where much of the material has become so simplistic and inane that no amount of energy could make it interesting to the average - let alone talented - student. And this is especially true with survey courses.

You can't just be dramatic, dynamic, etc. - you have to have good, interesting material to present. And all the drama courses in Hollywood won't provide good material.


I agree with you totally about lecturing. I think it's a very efficient way to convey information. Although in one class I stopped doing the readings because the teacher's otherwise very engaging/informative lectures became repetitive and boring if I'd actually prepared for the class.

I think class activity is good when it gives you the chance to "own" a little bit of information or material. But I think this is done best, at the college and even h.s. level, with writing a paper or preparing a presentation on some aspect of the material of the course (better if you have a bit of choice).

I've had some great class discussions too, where I'm honestly blown away by classmates' insights. But I think it actually takes a stronger teacher to lead a class discussion that will be worthwhile, on topic, and not annoying, than it does to deliver a good lecture (not a great lecture).


Agreed, Tara. I also do make sure to lecture on topics that aren't covered in the text, so that the text and the lecture are complemetary rather than redundant.

If I weren't asked to cover four millenia of history in 21 days, I'd surely have more time for discussion!

Glen Peterson

I think lecturing, public speaking is an undervalued and underutilized form of communication. Done well it is an art form: persuasion, use of vocabulary, use of language and syntax, story telling, leadership. This does not diminish other forms of communication. (except maybe film strips)


I've never had a problem with my university courses being predominantly lecture format. University students are adults; is it really so onerous to sit still and listen to a knowledgeable person talk for an hour or so? As for seminars, they usually only work if the TA or professor keeps a tight rein on things.

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