Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seminar Confessions of a Converted Lecturer

Greetings from the Robertson Lecture Theatre,at the ANU in Canberra, where Professor Eric Mazur is giving a Seminar on "Confessions of a Converted Lecturer". There is an audio version of the lecture available from the ABC.

There were three parts to the seminar:
  1. Education
  2. Peer instruction
  3. Results
He also mentioned that he changed from teaching to helping students learn. This reminded me very much of the approach used for the ACS postgraduate ICT courses. While I had accepted that this approach could be used for postgraduate courses, I was not sure it could be used for undergraduates. Last year I decided I was not going to give any more conventional lectures. This semester I have been attempting to use a different technique. If this did not work, my solution was to cease teaching undergraduates at the end of this semester.

The Professor described how he used to give conventional lectures. He would summarise the textbook into lecture notes. The students would then take their notes in the lecture. He then evolved a technique of handing out his notes at the end of the lecture, then he tried handing out the notes at the beginning of the lecture. Then he realised that he could not simply repeat what was in the lecture notes in the lecture.

The Professor then asked if lectures should be focused on the delivery of information. He argued that there is no time for assimilating information in a lecture. Furthermore he argued that most students will not be motivated enough to spend the time on their own outside the classroom. This seems to be a theme which other US based academics have discussed at ANU. I find it a little worrying that the university would be designed around teaching people something they are not interested in learning.

Even if there is a role for educational institutions teaching disinterested students, it is unlikely to be the job for Australia's leading university. Essentially the ANU's success has come from saying: "if you are exceptional and keen, then we will help you learn".

Towards the end of the seminar the Professor joked that he reflected he early on considered giving up on undergraduates. The audience laughed. Perhaps I should not give up on teaching undergraduates.


Kim said...

It is a nice idea that all ANU students are interested in every subject they take, but unfortunately that is not the case.

There are prerequisite subjects they don't like much, or they thought they would like it but are getting bored after all, or they just have to finish 3 more subjects to get their degree and they are doing the only subjects available this semester, or they worked too late last night and really aren't interested in anything today, or they are stressed because their mum is sick, and so on.

Tom Worthington said...

Video of Eric Mazur Lecture "Confessions of a converted lecturer" at ANU in Canberra, Mar 25, 2009 is available.