I continue to think about how lectures are changing in our new connected world. My last blog post primed my thinking and thanks to the comments and a great run yesterday. I have been able to push my own thinking to what it is I was trying to get at and the changes to the lecture that we’re seeing today. 

Lectures For Content Delivery Are Dead

Boring LecturesThis is what I am coming to understand. That the lecture use to be the way we delivered content to students. The PowerPoint made this easier on us as it allowed us to make some quick bullet points of what we wanted to cover and then go about “covering the material”.

When content is free, open, and accessible to all then we need to rethink what lectures should be used for and delivering content or knowledge is not a good use. Let kids go find the content….what we need to use the lecture for is to inspire them to go learn the content, create understanding, and apply that new knowledge to other areas. 

Lectures should be used to inspire, tell stories, and push ideas

Before every keynote or lecture I give I start by giving the audience a page like this that allows them to get involved with what I am talking about or to be off task.

I constantly tell my audience that if they are going to be off task then here are some links, some ways to be off task. If I can’t hold their attention that’s my fault as a teacher not their fault as a learner.

Is that right? We are quick to blame students for not paying attention but to be fair if I’m in a boring lecture I don’t care how old I am I’m not paying attention. Is that my fault as a student or the teacher’s fault? I believe that’s my fault as a teacher. You might disagree but I’ll own it that if my class is boring that’s on me.

So what should a lecture be used for if it is not to deliver content?

Inspire: I love inspiring lectures. The ones that make you stand up at the end. The ones that make you feel like going out and making a difference, the onces that you can’t wait to share with others, that you retweet, or reshare in some way. They inspire you to take action, to try something new, or just to smile and enjoy life. Lectures should be used to inspire. 

Tell Stories: I love a good story teller. Sir Ken Robinson is a good story teller along with pushing ideas he tells stories about as good as anyone….his ability to weave story telling and idea pushing together is what pulls you into his lectures. Use lectures to tell stories that inspire, that get a point across, that push me to want to learn more or to think deeply about a subject. 

Push an Idea: My personal favorite are lectures that push my thinking to the point where my head physically hurts. Have you ever been to a lecture where your thinking has been pushed so far past what you believe, what you thought possible, or what you can image is possible that it actually hurts? It’s happened to me a couple of times. These are also the type of lectures that have me scrambling to find…get this….content. Use lectures to push ideas.

So how do kids learn the “stuff”?

So where does the stuff come from? This takes me back to my ideas around flipped learning. Where the students are responsible to find the stuff and we learn it together in the classroom with a professional (educator) to help students put the stuff into context. 

What if your time with students ended in a 10 to 15 minute fantastic lecture that told a story of a person, or pushed out an idea that inspired students to want to know more. The students then for homework go and research what it is they want to learn more about around that idea, person, place, subject, etc. The next class period they come back with all this “stuff” they researched and we take the first part of the class to talk about the “stuff” and try to make sense of it as a class. We try to connect the dots, we try and find out how all this is connected to what we have been studying. Then we go out and research some more. 

We don’t need to deliver content, we need to inspire students to go out and find it for themselves. What inspires you to do a search? Why do you search for this or for that on the web? It’s because you want to know it….you need to know it. It pains you not to know it. That’s what we need to do and that’s the role of the lecture in today’s world. Not to deliver content but to inspire, tell stories, and push ideas to the point we want to go learn the “stuff” on our own. 

In my last blog post a couple days ago I talked about lectures not being a bad thing. 

Both Will and I make livings now lecturing to people. Lectures aren’t bad when used properly to motivate, inspire, or push thinking. So the flipped approach is not about replacing the lecture.

That quote has been tweeted a bit and it has me thinking about the changes we have seen in lectures and how they do not need to be should not be the sit and get sessions we remember from our time in school.

by Tulane Public Relations

In fact I think lectures are making a come back in some sense. We all love TED Talks which are nothing more than a lecture. But a lecture with something we all really enjoy….a time limit. 18 minutes is all you get for a TED Talk and because of that time limit it’s an intense 18 minutes. I know when I was giving my TEDx Talk I was watching the clock to make sure I was on time and within the limits as they will cut you off. 

Lectures aren’t the problem….Bad lectures are.

There is no reason a lecture today should not be interactive and engage the audience in the ideas being talked about. Or fast and engaging to the point where people don’t want to be off task. This is what TED does so well.

Will Richardson (I’ll keep picking on him for now) at his ISTE presentation lectured…and it was a great lecture. But what made it even better was that he used Today’s Meet a free chat room for those in the audience to share their ideas. Will did a great job of asking people to get involved, to give him feedback, and then he used the audiences input to change and adapt his talk. Taking time to check the stream, to engage with his audience. That is what a good lecture today should be. 

There is absolutely no reason why this can’t be done in a classroom. There are so many ways to engage your audience when giving a lecture that it should be just what we expect from a lecture in today’s digitally connected world. 

We also know more about the brain then ever before and know the brain needs processing time, or think time about every 10 minutes. Which is why whenever I’m giving a talk, about every 10 minutes I give the audience a 3 minute talk and process time. This also allows me to look at notes, chat rooms, tweets, or whatever system I have set up and reflect on how the lecture is going, see where I need to make changes and adapt to the audience. Again TED Talks are so good because they are no longer than 18 minutes and most are much shorter than that. Giving us that perfect chunk of knowledge that we can handle, process, and make meaning of.

I still find it fascinating how many times when giving a talk that this idea of back channeling is a new concept to so many. As if “sit and get” is still what is expected. It shouldn’t be!

Simple ways to back channel in the classroom:

  • Collaborative Notes: The simplest and probably most rewarding for students is to allow collaborative note taking by the class. Once you introduce students to this, whether in a lecture, in reading text, or just studying for a test it changes the note taking process forever…and I would argue for the better. Google Docs works perfect for this!
  • Chatroom: There are so many free ones out there or you can use a simple Google Doc and have students chat in the doc if you have that available. So many possibilities with a chatroom I don’t know why this isn’t more common.
  • Class Twitter Hashtag: I personally have never used this in a classroom but I know of others that have and as long as every student has a Twitter account (and they should) then this adds power not only during class but anytime students are connected they could be sharing, learning, engaging in the class.
  • Class Facebook Page: If you set up a class Facebook page students can chat, take notes, discuss, and stay connected long after the period or school is over. In fact just today on one of the class Facebook pages that I helped a teacher set up at ISB a graduated Senior posted he passed the IB exam and gave a shout out to the teacher thanking him for his teaching and helping him the past two years to find his voice and have a new respect for literature. Pretty cool if you ask me. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you are giving a lecture make it interactive….and no, a 100 slide powerpoint presentation is not interactive no matter how many times the letters fly in from the left, top and right. 

Lectures aren’t bad…..bad lectures are bad. Take time to make your lectures interactive, to put the focus on those listening and give them the power to interact with the content and with each other and you change the dynamics in a classroom really quickly. You put the focus on the learner not the content and that is never a bad thing.