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Oct 05, 2011

On the Use and Abuse of Lecture

For over 500 years, lecture has been associated with teaching in higher education. The word itself derives from the Latin lectus and hints at the ancient and venerable origins of the practice. In the medieval university, texts were rare and beyond the economic reach of most students. Texts were therefore read aloud so that others could hear and take notes on them. In the renaissance universities, the practice no longer always involved reading aloud, but referred to an instructional discourse given publicly. 

In nineteenth century America, orators like Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Jennings Bryan grafted rhetorical skills honed at the pulpit with the academic tradition and raised lecture to an art form, a means of public enlightenment and even entertainment. The Chautauqua or polished, engaging, public lecture became, according to Roosevelt, "the most American thing in America."

During the same period and starting with Johns Hopkins, America imported the German model of the research university, associating irrevocably the academic ability of a scholar with their ability to ‘hold forth' on their subject. The lecture became the sine qua non of academic life and the de facto instructional job description of the professor. Even in the minds of those who had not perfected the skill, lecture is what was meant by instruction in higher education.

Yet in recent years, lecture as the default mode of instruction in higher education has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism. Research on human learning and the resulting emphasis on collaborative and engaged learning in the classroom have raised questions about the appropriateness of lecture as a pedagogical technique.

Is lecture antithetical to effective learning and teaching? The most correct answer is, "That depends." There are times when it is most appropriate for us to use expository instructional methods like lecture.

On the other hand, the endemic one-sidedness of lectures and the temptation lecture provides to focus on the process of instruction rather than the process of learning means that we must be very careful. Lecture is too often the preferred means of instruction, not through any process of planning, design, or choice, but through an habitualreversion to the historical default.

When used properly, lecture can be an effective and enjoyable pedagogy. When used incorrectly or over-used, it can become a stumbling block to learning. If and when you decide to lecture,

  • Be sure that the instructional purpose and material is well suited to the lecture format. Use lecture to create initial motivation in students, dispense largely informational material, or frame a discussion in a particular way.

  • Design your class period to be broken into mini-lectures of no more than 10-15 minutes, punctuated by activities that help students focus, process, question, and re-engage. This interactive lecture makes use of such tools as concept tests, clickers, quizzes, peer mentoring and many, many more Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) interwoven with the lecture.

  • Verify that you have or can develop the presentational and rhetorical skills needed to effectively carry a lecture. Carefully prepare the lecture ahead of time, selecting key points, means of transitioning between ideas, examples and stories to use. Develop a presentation style that is pleasant and clear, avoiding distracting mannerisms while appropriately integrating humor, graphics, or other presentational aids.

  • Make sure that lecture doesn't become a default instructional methodology, but is always selected to fulfill specific instructional goals for its strengths over other, and potentially more effective, instructional options.


  • Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2 ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University Press.
  • Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors (Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education). Jossey-Bass, 3 edition.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.


Devan Barker, Instructional Development
Brigham Young University Idaho

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 28, 2011

Help Students Develop Paraphrasing Skills to Deter Plagiarism

Although many discussions of academic integrity and plagiarism focus on failures in ethical reasoning, student problems with good authorship practices are often motivated by weaknesses in reading comprehension or skill in writing paraphrases (e.g., Roig, 2007). Students frequently have problems paraphrasing ideas from primary sources because their understanding of the original work is weak. Sometimes these problems manifest as an over-reliance on quotations. The student who has difficulty paraphrasing might string together quoted material to create a paper and contribute few, if any, thoughts stated in the student’s own language. Some students may attempt to disguise their reliance on quoted material by omitting the quotation marks (and, even worse, omitting a citation) and then discover they are now charged with plagiarism.

Use an in-class reading and paraphrasing activity to promote comprehension of source material and good authorship practices

  • Assign a brief source passage for students toread. Then, have them write a one-paragraph summary in which they describe or paraphrase an idea or argument presented by the author of the reading. If you think this part of the activity will take too much time, assign this in advance and require students to bring their written paragraphs to class.
  • Use a pair-share activity in which students share their one-paragraph paraphrases with one another and evaluate how accurately they describe the original idea or argument and how well they use original language when writing their description.
  • After discussing their paragraphs in pairs or small groups, ask the students to draft an accurate paraphrase of the original passage as a group. Describe the methods used in your discipline for providing a citation for the original passage and include an appropriate citation in the draft created by the class.


This exercise will give students practice in writing appropriate paraphrases. It will also serve as an immediate source of feedback about how well they understood the original passage and the concepts discussed. When the class develops a paraphrase that is both accurate and original, misunderstandings of the original ideas will be clarified andcorrected. The class will also get direct practice with good authorship practices.



  • Eisner, C.L. (2011). Avoiding the Plagues & Pains of Plagiarism. Audio workshop, February 1, 2011.
  • Roig, M. (2007). Some reflections on plagiarism: The problem of paraphrasing in the sciences. European Science Editing, 33, 38-41.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.



Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director

Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment

University of West Florida

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 21, 2011

Developing Critical Thinking with Journal Writing

Sound critical thinking involves understanding points of view, evaluating positions, and then establishing a critical position.

Understanding what is being said. The first stage involves understanding the statement, position, or truth claim on its own terms. Students should be encouraged to learn how to listen to ideas, examine views carefully, gather information, and understand the various points of view without yet judging the merits of the positions. This step involves a willingness to be open-minded and to understand what is being said, how it is being said, and why it is asserted. At this point, students should be taught how to identify key elements of a logical statement, the principles and assumptions informing the positions, and the evidence used to sustain the points of view.

Evaluating what is being said. Once students understand a position on its own terms as completely as possible, then they can proceed to the next step of critically evaluating the legitimacy of the arguments advanced. Theunderstanding phase requires analysis, breaking the position into its various components, and evaluation—the process of determining the value or legitimacy of the argument. Students should be encouraged to examine such elements as logical consistency (does the position make logical sense, are logical and emotional fallacies committed, is the position self-defeating, are principles and assumptions inadequate to sustain the point of view), empirical adequacy (is there sufficient evidence to support the claims, is the evidence represented accurately and used appropriately, are counter evidences avoided or ignored), and existential relevance (does the position make sense to lived experience, can the views be lived out in the real world). This three-fold analysis should develop enough material to level a sound evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of a position.

Establishing the position. Once students have understood a position on its own terms and critically evaluated it based upon logic, evidence, and lived experience, they should be sufficiently prepared to establish, explain, and defend their own position. Too often, students offer statements such as “Well, it is just my opinion!” or “This is just what I feel; what is wrong with that?” The underlying assumption to such statements is that their views need not be defended nor explained or, worse, that no one has the right to challenge their positions and views. Students should learn to movebeyond their personal opinions and to establish their views more firmly withclear logic, sound evidence, and relevant experience.

Practice with Critical Thinking Journals

Indeed, it can be challenging for students to learn these essential steps to effectivecritical thinking, and the key is that they not learn them in the abstract but, rather, practice them in various ways so that they can understand how to apply them to academic, professional, and personal contexts. We should remember that it isn’t so much that students cannot think critically; basically, many have not been taught how nor given many opportunities to practice. Assigning critical thinking journal writing assignments is an effective way to engagestudents in critical thinking. This critical thinking journal assignment can be adapted to a first-year writing class, applied in core courses/seminars, and assigned in major program courses.

The following example is from a core literature seminar. Assign a scholarly article that relates to the literature read in the course. Ask students to write a 500-600 word journal entry in which they do the following: state the main focus/purpose of the article, summarize one key point/argument they find interesting and explain why they find it interesting, discuss one example from the literature that illustrates this idea, and then explain the extent to whichthey agree or disagree with the critic’s main point. Note that this is merely the general pattern: each journal assignment should be slightly different.

Here is a more specific sample assignment: After finishing George MacDonald’s fantasy novel Phantastes, read John Pennington's article, "Phantastesas Metafiction: George MacDonald’s Self-Reflexive Myth." Briefly define metafiction (see his summary of Patricia Waugh's definition) and summarize a key example from the novel. Summarize Pennington's main point in the article and discuss to what extent you agree or disagree with his point and why. Conclude by explaining how this article helps you understand the novel moreclearly. Your journal entry should be 500-600 words.

Note how the assignment encourages students to practice the three key phases of criticalthinking: understanding (summarize a key point), evaluation (discuss to whatextent you agree and disagree and why), and establishing a position (explain how the article helps you understand the novel more clearly).

Ideally, a course will have several such assignments (four-five) that allow students to engage critical thinking and to practice their writing skills. Moreover, faculty should provide feedback on these journals to continue to engage the students.

  • Hogsette, David S. Writing That Makes Sense: Critical Thinking in College Composition. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2009.
  • Ruggiero, Vincent Ryan. Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking. 8th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.
  • The Critical Thinking Community, Sample Assignment Formats. Accessed 2/28/2011 from

David Hogsette                               
Associate Professor, English                    
New York Institute of Technology

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 14, 2011

To Post or Not to Post: What Are the Consequences of Posting PowerPoint Slides for Student Learning?

What evidence exists about the impact of giving students a handout of the power point slides before or during class? Do instructors who proved the slides as handouts free students from the multi-tasking associated with copying information from the slides and allow them to concentrate on listening to the presentation and class discussion? Or does having a copy of the slides encourage students to skip class, allow them to surf the web during class, or otherwise disengage?

The study:
Marsh and Sink (2010) examined the content of notes students took during classes in two different conditions—when they had an advance copy of the presentation slides or when they only had blank paper for taking notes. Marsh and Sink also examined student performance on several types of course exams(multiple choice questions, short answer questions, free recall essays).

The findings:
Although students took more notes when they did not have copies of the presentation slides, the notes they took consisted primarily of verbatim copies of the content of the slides presented during class. Both groups recorded additional information from the lecture and discussion that had not been included on the slides, but both groups of students recorded this additional information at equal rates.

What were the consequences for learning? Students who received a copy of the slides as handouts before attending the lecture performed better than students who took notes and received the slide handouts later when both groups were tested with short-answer questions. The groups performed equivalently on other types of questions. Thus, student’s claims that having a copy of the slides in advance helps them focus on the meaning of the lecture by reducing the time they spend recording specific slide content appears to be supported by evidence.

The recommendation:
If you decide to post slides in advance, consider posting a bare-bones variant of the slides you plan to use in class, or even a simple outline of the main points plus a list of terminology. This handout will support note-taking without providing all the detail that might be included on class slides. This strategy creates an incentive to attend class, provides a structure for organizing the notes, and forces students to attend to details included in the class slides and your presentation as they add these details to the notes on their handouts.

  • Marsh, E. J., & Sink, H. E. (2010). Access to handouts of presentation slides during lecture: Consequences for learning, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 691-706. doi: 10.1002/acp.1579

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida
Pensacola, FL

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 07, 2011

Engage Students in Your Course by Providing a Larger Context


Students enroll in courses for many reasons, some intrinsic, some extrinsic. They might be curious about a topic or discipline. They might have heard positive comments about an instructor from other students. Or the course might be required, either for all majors in a discipline (or relateddiscipline) or as an option to meet a graduation requirement.
Students who register for a course for intrinsic reasons arrive on the first day excited and motivated to engage in the course. Students who register primarily because a course satisfies a requirement might be resistant to engaging in the course. How can we engage and motivate students who are ambivalent about the course?
Students often select a major without fully understanding the breadth of the field. Sometimes, students regard required courses as obstacles, without recognizing the relevance of the knowledge and skills acquired in those courses to their future careers. The first day of class is a good opportunity to place the course in the context of the major and clarify the importance of the learning outcomes associated with that course for development of professional skills in the discipline.
Courses that function as service courses to a variety of majors may present additional challenges. It can be helpful to learn the intended careers of your students, and to use that information when selecting specific examples to discuss in class. Including applications that are relevant to the future careers of your students will add variety to the course content and will help keep your students engaged throughout the term.
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida

Author: francine_glazer

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Terese Coe Terese Coe
Adjunct Professor
Department: English
Campus: Manhattan
Anthony Reyes Anthony Reyes
Campus: Old Westbury
Major: B.S., Mechanical Engineering
Class Of: 2015
Tobi Abramson Tobi Abramson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and Director of NYIT Center for Gerontology and Geriatrics
Department: Mental Health Counseling
Campus: Old Westbury