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Lecture as a pedagogical approach has come under considerable fire in recent years. Indeed, critics have called lectures boring, obsolete, old-fashioned, overused, and even unfair, among other, less-flattering terms. The criticisms, however, have most often been leveled at one type of lecture: the full-class-session, transmission-model lecture. And it is fair to say that delivering a 50- to 75-minute nonstop lecture is not the best pedagogical approach.
But there is another type of lecture, one that my colleague Elizabeth Barkley and I describe in detail in our recent book, and it’s called interactive lecturing (Barkley & Major, 2018). Interactive lecturing is a model for combining engaging presentations and active learning techniques in a way that can engage students and improve their learning. Figure 1 illustrates the model for interactive lecturing.
Interactive lecturing is a useful approach for faculty who not only want or need to lecture but also hope to do more than simply transmit information. Rather than merely presenting material, during interactive lectures faculty embed a well-planned, engaging presentation within a sequence of activities that help students understand, process, apply, and rehearse new information. Thus faculty can use interactive lectures to encourage students to engage in a structured and supportive learning environment that ensures they are active participants before, during, and after the lecture.
Interactive lecturing is both a good idea and a proven teaching and learning strategy. Research shows that more students fail and drop out of lecture-only courses than do students in classes with active learning components included in the lecture sessions. By supporting students with engaging presentations embedded in active learning techniques, you can support and improve student learning in lectures. Below are some research-supported tips and techniques you can use when choosing interactive lectures.
Many of us have attended boring lectures in which the speaker drones on and on in a dull, monotonous voice. Interactive lecturing requires an engaging presentation as a core component within a carefully constructed process designed to ensure that listeners participate actively in their learning. Table 1 provides examples of what you can do to make your presentation more effective.
Despite our best efforts to teach students through engaging presentations, it is ultimately each student’s responsibility to put in the effort to actually learn from them. Thus, it is important to think through what you can assign students to do to support their learning from your presentation. Table 2 includes several examples of active learning techniques that support learning in lectures.
One of the key questions about interactive lecturing is how to do it. Incorporating learning activities that function as what Barkley and I refer to as bookends, interleaves, and overlays to a lecture presentation can help students be active participants throughout the class session. I describe each of these briefly below.
Bookends are structures positioned on either side of the presentation to support the lecture. Prior to a presentation, a bookend might take the form of a preparation guide, an online quiz or module, or a quick prediction exercise that kicks off the lecture. After a presentation it might be a summary or reflection exercise. Sometimes it works well to start a presentation with a bookend that you revisit at the end—for example, asking students to reflect on what they already know about a topic before you present on it and then asking them to reflect on and identify key learning or questions they still have after the presentation.
Overlays are learning activities used during the presentation to help students focus on the lecture content. They may involve techniques that promote active listening or note-taking activities. The idea is to ask students to do something active to help them more closely focus on what you are saying.
Interleaves involve alternating between lectures and active learning; they thus occur in between presentation segments to help break up the lecture so students have time to process what you have said. You might, for example, choose to interleave presentations with quick pair discussions.
Table 3 provides an example of how a 65-minute class session might work using bookends, overlays, and interleaves:
By structuring your session using these three techniques, you can ensure that your lecture presentation incorporates active learning techniques that help students engage. Bookends, overlays, and interleaves allow you to support and extend lecture presentations in ways that focus on improving student learning.
Faculty need not avoid the lecture entirely. Rather, when we use it, we should embed it within a series of activities designed to help students learning. We should use whatever pedagogical tools will best help us accomplish our teaching objectives and our students meet their learning goals. And interactive lecturing is an engaging pedagogical approach with a well-developed research base to support it.
Barkley, E. F., & Major, C. H. (2018). Interactive lecturing: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Claire Howell Major, PhD, is a professor of higher education administration at the University of Alabama. She is cofounder of the K. Patricia Cross Academy.
A version of this article appeared in the Best of the 2019 Teaching Professor Conference report. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.