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Why I love twitter—what is lecture?

June 6, 2011
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You have to read this twitter stream to understand just how powerful twitter can be as a learning tool.

It starts with Dan Meyer tweeting the following:

What an awesome question—let’s define our terms before we get too far down the edu-reform road. Read on to see how this plays out.

The responses were outstanding. Here are just a few that caught my eye.

Brian Frank:

Kelly O’Shea sends this zinger:

Andy Rudquist reports how baked in the idea of lecture = class is to many institutions:

The Sam Shah challenges some of the current thinking that lecture is somehow a lesser form of learning:

And then the whole conversation shifts, becoming much more nuanced…Dan reframes the question:

And Kelly O’Shea raises and even bigger question.

And Sam delivers a great answer:

And Kelly adds a good coda:

So here’s the essential question—how do you train students to become learners like Sam’s description above? My iPod is filled with podcasts and lectures from iTunesU, and I come away from almost all of them feeling like I’ve learned a ton, even as I’m grocery shopping while listening to a discussion of the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century England. So the first thing I think won’t do at all is the “feeling” that you’ve learned. Everyone gets that when they hear an explanation and an engaging voice. How do we help students to “know” they’ve learned, and even more importantly, to see the places where they don’t understand.

I think Kelly and Sam have hit on the key to learning—it must be an active process. Kahn Academy gets this too, since all of his work now is on building its assessment engine that actually tests your understanding of what you are learning. This isn’t just true of lecture, it’s true of inquiry based work, problem based learning, whatever. I think the reason lecture gets a bad name is because more than many other ways of teaching, it is most prone to students becoming inactive, and not doing the things Kelly and Sam describe above, which leads to very little learning.

So if lecture is to be a valid and useful way to teach (and I certainly believe that it does have a place in teaching), how do we teach the skills to help students become active learners? It seems to me that this is very similar to the struggle teachers, especially English teachers, face when teaching students to truly engage a text when reading—learning to annotate, to question, and to get past surface level examinations of the writing.

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