Rhett Allain, an Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, writing for Wired: What is the traditional lecture? It is a model of learning in which a teacher possesses the knowledge on a given topic and disseminates it to students. This model dates to the beginning of education, when it was the only way of sharing information. In fact, you occasionally still see the person presenting the lecture called a reader, because way back before the internet and even the printing press, a teacher would literally read from a book so students could copy it all down. Now, don’t get me wrong. The traditional lecture model worked wonderfully for eons. But it is an outdated idea (free pass for adblockers). Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a college physics course with a professor giving a traditional lecture. Now open your eyes. Did you envision The Best Physics Lecture EVAR? I doubt it. You probably pictured someone droning on and on in front of a chalkboard or PowerPoint presentation. No way that is more engaging or interesting than an episode of The Mechanical Universe , and if you’re a teacher who uses traditional lectures, just stop and play the show instead. Everyone will be better off. You may think by now that I think most physics professors are dolts. I promise that’s not the case. But traditional lectures simply aren’t effective. Research shows students don’t learn by hearing or seeing, they learn by doing, a model often called active learning. Physics faculty should start thinking about how they can go beyond just a traditional lecture. There are some easy things they can do (or students can ask them to do) to make learning more engaging. First, make students read the book outside of class, rather than in class. If your lecture merely covers the material in the textbook, why make students buy the textbook? Now, you may put a different spin on the material, but still. You’re merely repeating what students can read on their own. Let them do that on their own time, and use the classroom for experiments and demonstrations and so forth.
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