Is There Life Beyond The Lecture?

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” Chinese Proverb

Some faculty are wonderful, engaging lecturers. Some are not.

Regardless, the classroom lecture continues to be the dominant form of instruction in the college classroom today–even though all the pedagogical research I have read shows that this is NOT the best way to teach–if you want students to remember what they are learning after the class is over.

In his article “Exploding the Lecture,” Steve Kolowich examines the example and strategies of a charismatic lecturer who has turned to creating online videos. Students watch Mike Garver’s lectures on their own time and as often as necessary then come to class where they have time to discuss, engage and apply the ideas in large and small groups. Kolowich writes:

Garver remembers his supervisor affirming the young lecturer’s confidence — before blowing it apart. “He basically said, ‘Mike, that was a great lecture. Have you ever heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning?’ ” Garver had not. His supervisor explained Benjamin Bloom’s 1956 formulation, which divides learning into higher and lower orders and emphasizes the importance of putting learned ideas to work.

“Even though your lecture was spectacular,” Garver recalls his mentor saying, “you’re down here at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy.” He challenged Garver to infuse higher orders of learning into his teaching methodology. “I have been chasing that dream ever since,” Garver says.

I too have been chasing that dream. I knew from my own educational experience that most lectures made me sleepy and that even taking good notes didn’t mean I didn’t retain the material. I learned best and most deeply by “doing” something with the material: talking about it in groups, presenting it to the class, writing about it, applying it in a service learning context, using it for problem solving.

Until recently, it was relatively easy for my students and I to hold seminars in class to discuss material by moving our desks into a large circle or smaller groups. Unfortunately, new buildings at the college where I teach cram as many students as possible into the classrooms using tables that go from one end of the room almost all the way to the other making it very difficult for us to do anything other than sit in rows at the long tables.

And I am finding, when students are in those rows, it is easy just to stay on the stage.

What teaching strategies work for you to retain information from classes beyond the final exam? What classes do you remember the most? What information from a class have you used and how did you attain that information?

(Note to my English 2 students: you can read and respond to this blog post and to the article referenced for one of your 20 reading responses. Remember to use quotes and cite your sources.)

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How Much Time Do You Spend Per Class Unit?

I usually teach 5 unit classes at the local community college. We meet for 2 hours and 15 minutes two times a week.

The number of units a class has is the number of contact hours you have with the instructor. It presupposes students spend 2 hours per contact hour on homework.

That means my students are supposed to be spending 10 hours a week on the class in order to master the material and be prepared to move on to the next level of writing.

So I assign homework with the expectation that students will commit to devoting ten hours a week on reading, writing, and researching.

Other community faculty have admitted to me that they assign homework expecting the students will spend about one hour on homework per contact hour. We know that community college students typically have more responsibilities and work more than the typical university student. My night students usually have a full time job AND families AND often they are taking a full load of classes.

That’s 12 units x 3 = 36 hours per week for classes + 40 hours for work + x responsibilities etc. It’s an equation that quickly goes beyond the hours of the week even if you reduce sleep from 8-9 hours to 6 or 7.

In contrast, university classes are more in line with these expectations of time devoted to class. When I attended community college, I could race through the readings and rip out the few papers in very little time (which was a good thing since I was working almost full time and took 18 or more units each semester). When I transferred to UC Santa Cruz, I was shocked by how much time I had to spend to do the reading and the writing required to prepare for class–I was unprepared by my community college experience for the expectations of college.

In this article “YouTube U: The Power Of Stanford’s Free Online Education” about free classes in engineering being offered this semester at Stanford University, author says that even Instructor

“Thrun warned many off by cheerfully promising they’d have to clock the same amount of time on homework as a “good” Stanford student—up to 12 hours per week”

the class had an initial enrollment of 160,000 with 35,000 turning in the first week’s homework.

Any ideas on how to motivate community college students to commit the time and devote up to 10 hours a week on a writing class?

(Note to my English 2 students: you can read and respond to this blog post and to the article referenced for one of your 20 reading responses. Remember to use quotes and cite your sources.)

An Argument/Analysis Assignment For Book Clubs

In mid-October I took over two Ventura College writing classes. I think a syllabus is a contract between students and faculty so I was cautious about changing it. One I instituted requires the students to read a book and to respond to reading with more depth and complexity. They had an argument essay on the syllabus so I adapted that to this Book Club project I frequently assign. Here’s a link to the books the students could choose from. Because the assignment is a combination group and individual assignment, I require students to complete a process analysis to discuss how their group produced their essay.


During a class earlier in the week, students met with their book club to discuss the book, read over each other’s drafts, and develop a thesis with what I call the 4 Ts: Topic, ‘Tude, Telegraph, Tension.

During the second class this week, students will have two hours of class time to work together in groups to produce a 3-4 page essay which they will turn in with their own papers and drafts about the book as well as a process analysis.

Analysis/Argument ESSAY: Book Club Continue reading