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I can’t lose lecture. The skills I teach necessarily involve modeling, questioning, and transmission. There are those who insist lecture is per se irrelevant and self-obsessed, but theirs is a reductive, useless line of inquiry. For my part in this collaborative disquisition on the future of learning, I can’t take any participant seriously who would volunteer an entire medium (TV, for example) or tool (lecture, PowerPoint, etc) to the gallows.

Motivating Questions

  1. So what does good lecturing look like in the 21st century?
  2. How can 21st-century tools — an entry-level digital projector, let’s say — enrich lecturing?
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school teacher, former graduate student, and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.


  1. Eric

    June 24, 2008 - 12:20 pm

    For myself, especially after delving into my Summer Reading, good lecturing in the 21st. century combines several elements (i.e. PowerPoint, streaming video, whiteboards, chart paper,).

    What I have found (and from what I’ve read of your blog Dan you have found this as well) today’s students have been brought up in a more visually stimulating, multimedia environment. By making use of an “entry level digital projector” effectively, today’s lecturer can enhance his lecture or presentation or assignment with image and sound that would have been unheard of a decade ago.

    That said, the lecturer’s message is still the needed catalyst to effective communication. All other elements are tools for the lecturer to use as needed enhancement of his or her core point.

  2. Tom Hoffman

    June 24, 2008 - 2:23 pm

    Sure you aren’t tilting at straw men here?

  3. Ian H.

    June 24, 2008 - 2:25 pm

    If lecture can be transformed into a participatory experience, I think the students are more likely to stay engaged for longer. I read about these large group seminars which include a back-channel of some sort (occasionally projected on to the stage) and wonder if something similar would be beneficial in the classroom. Obviously, there’s lots of potential for abuse there, but if it can be well managed, perhaps the benefits outweigh the negatives. One of my projects this summer is to consider how I might make teacher-centric hours more participatory for the students.

  4. JasonP

    June 24, 2008 - 3:10 pm

    For me, deciding how to teach (including lecture) always boils down to certain issues:

    1. What do my students NEED to learn/do?
    2. What do my students already know?
    3. If I am lecturing, what are my students DOING as the lecturing is going on?
    4. How do I connect the content to their own lives?
    5. How much time do I have before I lose the class with too much (not period time–attention time)?

    These issues are not knew. I do find multimedia helpful, and I use it often in many settings be it lecture, discussion, brainstorming, and peer review. Unfortunately, my current technology doesn’t allow for lots of video/sound (English departments have a long way to go to catch up to math/science departments; it always seems like we are the lowest tech-ability department around), but I do my best to make up to it with what I have.

    Lecture is an important tool. I do believe that there are students who just need direct instruction like that because they cannot socialize in groups well, need to see something modeled, or just need complex information related to them first so they can put their brains in the right context. The Achilles Heel of this is (which leads to questions like this) how do we get those kids involved in a lecture when those students who need it the most are the most likely ones to tune us out?

    I don’t have an easy answer for this, but I think it points to the main reason why lectures don’t work–classroom management. In my classes (usually about 35 9th graders spread over four ability levels), I need those 35 brains paying attention when I am speaking and differentiated instruction in ONE lecture is difficult and is where the tools come into play.

    I use PowerPoint quite a bit; I often start a unit with a lecture/presentation/direct instruction. My PowerPoints often have two kinds of information–the essential and the extra. I always have the essential information in a specific color so my slower students who have never been taught how to take good notes (I work on that too.) know exactly what is important on the slide.

    Any other ideas?

  5. Doug Cochran

    June 24, 2008 - 3:30 pm

    After using an LCD projector to deliver notes/images and supplement lecture I really don’t know how I got along without using it. I teach history and using images resonates with students.

    I remember my first year sans-projector. Using overhead with transparencies I showed an image of Teddy Roosevelt as a cop in Latin America and suddenly the class was totally engaged. The next day I used a few more until the point I was using 5-10 transparencies per day. I realized I needed a projector b/c it would actually be cost effective.

    Visuals are so key, and if you use good ones it serves as a great classroom management tool. And not only gory subjects like world wars (which students love) but things like the Sinclair’s the Jungle, or maps of expansionism.

    Lecturing becomes more interactive b/c at any time I will put an image up there and ask them to “Take 30 seconds w/ a partner and identify 2 clues in this image and then figure out the the meaning.”

    Everyday we start class and for less than 5 minutes I take attendance or check homework etc…while class analyzes political cartoons. Students enjoy it and they are acquiring the skill of analyzing visuals and understanding things like caricature and that authors do things on purpose.

    Kids are twice as engaged, and i’ll throw a Far Side cartoon up there once in a while and students think its fun and not even “learning.”

  6. James White

    June 24, 2008 - 5:31 pm

    I will add to all of the above with a Tablet PC. My school invested in about 30 of them for those of us who wanted to try them out. Granted, some just used them as glorified laptops, but I was the acid test.

    These are computers that you can writ on like a tablet of paper using a stylus. With a wireless router connected to my LCD projector, I can roam around the room, sit with the students at an unoccupied desk, lecture from the back of the room, and (gasp) hand it over to a student to write notes or a response. Add to that the internet through same wireless router and you can create dynamic lectures and cooperative lessons.

    And for some reason, the little buggers stay focussed on the screen. I suspect it comes from a generation of watching screens and monitors, but they do calm down and ogle in fascination what I put up. With ScanSnap, an instant scanner, student work can be put up on the screen immediately for peer revision.

    I have visited an entire school where ALL the students have these tablets and the software allows different students to take over the LCD projector and become a dynamic part of the lesson.

    These tablets and LCDs are not the future -they are the now. In the future (like in 5-10 years) kids will use laptops that look like giant iPhones and the lines between learning and teaching will become somewhat blurred. Which, I think, is a good thing!

  7. dan

    June 24, 2008 - 5:59 pm

    @Doug & Eric, yeah, word on all that. Strategies for visual engagement haven’t changed much in the last half century; we’re still trying to ask stimulating questions of carefully selected images. However, finding those images has never been easier.

    @Tom, wouldn’t be the first time, but I don’t think so, no. Here are three LeaderTalk articles proclaiming, variously, “Teachers need to move past using lecture,” “The very best teachers … do not stand at the board and lecture,” “In the presentation model, there is no hope.” And it’s like, c’mon, seriously?

    @JasonP, your constitution there is strong. In terms of differentiation, it’s never easy, but the best images/videos inspire scaffolding and multiple entry points like I can’t believe. I pick up maybe seven of those images/videos per year. Only a matter of time before I have the whole box set.

    @James, tablet PCs are slick. The hardware cost isn’t even all that bad. The software cost of PowerPoint, though, is outrageous and, yeah, I realize it comes preinstalled. That’s not what I mean, if you know what I mean.

  8. dan

    June 24, 2008 - 6:01 pm

    @Ian H., Stephen Downes is perhaps the strongest advocate of a backchannel. I guess the most charitably I can put it is: I don’t get it.

  9. Ian H.

    June 24, 2008 - 9:13 pm

    Yeah, I read that one too and I was a little put off by it, but I think if it were moderateable (is that a word?) it would be beneficial. Imagine being able to have students answer other students questions in front of the whole class without interrupting the flow of the lecture…

  10. vlorbik

    June 25, 2008 - 11:59 am

    land mines. let’s be sure to include those somehow.