By Rebecca Bromwich, Instructor, Department of Law and Legal Studies
Contemporary educational wisdom generally accepts that the instructional mode of didactic lecturing is not an ideal way to help students learn. I tend to agree, which is why, in preparing for my large classes, I’m working hard to find ways to engage hundreds of students simultaneously – whether through think-pair-share activities, through the use of clickers and Poll Everywhere technologies and through group projects in class.
Like everyone else, I’m working to adapt to a time when laptops and smart phones are ubiquitous in lecture theatres. It’s also a time when, according to some pretty reliable data, the human attention span has decreased on average to being 8 seconds, which is, as the Microsoft study indicates, “less than that of a goldfish.” However, I was intrigued by a recent article in the New York Times that offered what I found to be a pretty compelling case for lecturing as a useful way to teach students mindfulness, attentiveness and the ability to synthesize material as they listen.
The New York Times article got me thinking about mindfulness, and how meditation is incredibly trendy right now in the corporate world. On the one hand, universities are working hard to shift teaching and learning away from passive (read as negative) frames into “active” ones. On the other hand, students, mental health advocates and even corporations are working hard to find ways to make space for mindfulness and meditation in people’s lives. Then I did a yoga class, and with that final “Namaste,” where the hands connect, I had this idea that maybe we should take seriously the fact that mindfulness and thinking are related concepts.
If we want students to think about the material we are asking them to engage with, lecturing seems to have a place in the university after all. Certainly, it was my experience as an undergraduate student that sitting in lectures was a space in which I engaged in important thinking about the concepts being discussed.
So, while I won’t be throwing away the clickers, and will be continuing to look for ways to make my classes lively, active and participatory, I’m going to continue, unabashedly, to lecture from time to time. Because, Namaste.