There is a space between a traditional lecture and Problem Based Learning

The traditional, leading place of lectures in university education has been undermined since the second half of the 20th century (Gibbs, 1981; Rhett, 2017). Although many university teachers still think that lectures are the best way to convey knowledge, this view is not supported by pedagogic research. First of all, from the theory of communication we know that there is no such thing as undisturbed copying (‘transferring’) of the lecturer’s knowledge to the student’s mind. Second, learning only takes place when information is processed in the learner’s mind. And finally, new knowledge is more operational if it has been ‘acquired’ by the student and not given to him/her readily on a silver plate. All this together gives support to the constructivist model of education.

Barbora Padrtova discusses in her study  how to prepare students for active learning, without giving up lectures at once. Padrtová gained her first teaching experience at the Masaryk University teaching students of International Relations. In their professional work there is little requirement for applying algorithms, but a lot of demand for advanced higher order cognitive skills, and soft competences such as communication skills or decision making. That is why presenting the topic to the students in a lecture is not enough. Moreover, the traditional, dull form of the lecture failed to attract students who quickly shifted their attention to something else and lost involvement. Padrtova tried to replace a 90 minute- frontal lecture by three other learning methods: a Skype call with an expert, a pair/group work, and an interactive mini-lecture. She assumed that: ‘the more interactive an activity is, the more interesting students find it’ and ‘the more interesting students find an activity, the more they learn from it’.

Contact with a non-university expert (via Skype or face-to-face) is an excellent idea. Students appreciate the fact of going out mentally of the university. Adults learn more willingly if they can see the practical application of the knowledge gained (Knowles, 1984).

The proposed changes are an intermediate step between a traditional lecture and Problem Based Learning. Evaluating the innovation Padrtova found that in 24% of cases students alone could initiate communication: either with a fellow student or with a teacher. The rest of communication (76%) was initiated by teacher. What is positive, in all those cases students mostly spontaneously answered her questions and only in 20% of instances she had to call by name an individual student. We can congratulate her on the atmosphere of trust that allowed the students to express themselves freely.

Students indicated that the most interactive group discussion was the least interesting for them. I agree with the author that the reason for this may be their lack of experience in cooperative learning. The solution may be to use the jigsaw method: students do not read the entire text before the discussion, but each groups reads a different fragment and shares their knowledge with other groups. In each case, however, the key factor is assigning a task properly to the group. It is the major factor that can help to involve students. I would also not be interested in a discussion about the ‘text I have read’. Putting the topic of discussion into the wider context of an expert’s lecture delivered via Scype and summarizing the teacher’s conversational mini-lecture can also bring desired results.

I am not surprised that a short test of concepts memorized during the class did not yield the best results for the most interactive method. In general, active methods are little effective for memorization. Interactive activities allow development of social competences what is impossible in the traditional lecture theatre. They are often accompanied by too much emotion (e.g. fierce discussions) that disturbs the process of remembering. Students’ attention is focused on arguments rather than on fact remembering. It is therefore difficult to compare the result of learning from methods that serve different purposes.

I agree with the author that dramatic changes, e.g. replacing teacher centered learning by students centered learning, should be introduced gradually and, above all, comprehensively (not only in one class, or one course). Only this, as well as detailed explanation and discussion with students about what is expected from them and why can bring us closer to the educational success.

References

Gibbs, G. (1981.). Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing, SCED Occasional Paper No. 8, Birmingham.

Knowles, M. (1984). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (3rd Ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing

Rhett, A. (2017). The traditional lecture is dead. I would know. I am a professor, Science, 2017, https://www.wired.com/2017/05/the-mechanical-universe/ (access 07.04.2019

Iwona Maciejowska
Jagiellonian University, Krakow


Early Career Academics’ Reflection on Learning to Teach in Central Europe

SEDA is publishing an open access book online, with a chapter released on its website every fortnight.  Each time a chapter is released it will be accompanied by a blog post published on SEDA WordPress. The book is called Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe, edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon. This book contains case studies by participants of a new educational development programme who redesigned their course sessions to apply student-centred approaches, using innovative teaching methods and stimulate good learning.

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