ALTC 2010: Donald Clark Keynote: Don't lecture me

As student numbers increase and cuts are implemented the HE sector has to do more for less. This...

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Rebecca Galley
3 September 2010

10:20 - 11:20 on Tuesday, 7 September in Room MA

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There's an atmosphere of anticipation as ALT-C starts proper with Donald Clark's keynote. He is well known for his no nonsense and controversial approach which is likely to kick off some fairly heated discussion...! Donald sets out to show what a ‘hopeless’ pedagogical approach the lecture is. He spends much of the session arguing for high quality, engaging, expert and recorded lecturers whilst at the same time emphasizing that he believes that the lecture however it is delivered and shared is an entirely pointless exercise (I should say here that I entirely disagree - there's nothing like a good lecture in my opinion - but will remain to the Elluminate recording of the session in links below for the full experience ;-))


He focuses on Physics teaching and shared anecdotes about Newton (who gave lectures to empty theatres), ?name?----(who gave excellent lectures but recognised that it was [removed][removed] not a good way of teaching physics) and particularly about the works of Eric Mazur (“Lecture is the transfer of the notes of the lecturer to the notebook of the student, without passing through either”). He shares Mazur’s ConcepTest Process which outlines a high energy stimulating alternative to the physics lecture format.


Donald stresses throughout the keynote that, in his opinion, if you’re going to lecture don’t do it for 20 or 100 people, do it for 10,000. If you’re going to do it do it well. He argues later that NOT recording lectures, not to give students a second bite of the cherry, is morally corrupt - and in addition to that it is “better to see a first class lecture on video than a mediocre one in the flesh” (Lewin, 2007)


He applies Maslow’s metaphor ‘If you only go around with a hammer you’ll start to think everything is a nail’ and says he can see this happening in HE and applies it to the use of the lecture (and in passing argues that there is no academic basis for Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but still a key part of teacher training and training world along with other 50 year old theories that no one has updated!) 


Donald gives us a quick tour of the history of the lecture, starting with Socrates who he argues actually seems to have been quite a bully, and harangued students in order to get them to come to his point of view, but at least was student centered. Plato, Socrates’ student, had a problem solving, enquiring student centered view and still did not lecture, then Aristotle who still did not lecture - so where did the lecture come from? First reference to the lecture in the middle ages (meant reading). Came from the teaching of religious texts where the material was not up for interpretation. Showed picture from 14th century of lecture where people are sleeping and not looking at the lecturer.


He cites evidence (from the book ‘Media Equation’) that there is a higher degree of retention when you hear a lecture from an expert i.e. when there is a great deal of respect for the lecturer, but then goes on to share an excellent clip from Ferris Buellers Day Out (see embedded video below) - which I haven’t seen for years - which gives a classic if characterized example of a teacher who believes he is being interactive but actually relies on rhetorical or pointless questions which do not engage or challenge students thinking. He cites sobering Russell group university research that shows that student attendance at lectures goes from 90% at the beginning of the year to 50 % by week 20.


Donald finishes by exploring 10 pedagogic problems with lectures:


1 Why 1 hr? Should be as long as it needs to be.

2.Tyranny of time. It should happen in my time.

3.Tyranny of location. Why should everyone have to be in the same plae?

4.Psychological attention. Boredom.

5.Cognitive overload.

6.Episodic and semantic memory.

7.Learn by doing not listening (even physics).

8.Spaced practice (see the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve).

9.Not collaborative.

10.Personality problems. The people recruited as lecturers are primarily researchers and do not generally make good communicators.


The keynote finishes on a fairly positive note as Donald suggests an alternative for the lecture format and shares research and thinking from Carol Twigg about transformative course redesign. I look forward to the lively debate this session will no doubt inspire ;-))

Rebecca Galley
10:36 on 7 September 2010 (Edited 09:20 on 18 January 2011)

?Name? was Richard Feynman

Christopher Jobling
13:08 on 7 September 2010

Richard Feynman - thx Chris!

Rebecca Galley
13:27 on 7 September 2010 (Edited 13:29 on 7 September 2010)

(From Jim Ellis's eLearning Digest No 77)

Donald Clark's ALT-C keynote speech caused controversy at the time, and has been viewed over 3,000 times on ALT's YouTube channel.  As a result, Donald will be running a free lunchtime webinar focusing on 'evidence' that unrecorded lectures, rather than being a proven pedagogic method, fail the learner.  The webinar will be run using Elluminate, starting at 12 noon on Tue 18 Jan and followed by a facilitated open discussion, with the whole session lasting approximately 1 hour.

Rebecca Galley
09:14 on 18 January 2011

Embedded Content

Ferris Bueller: Voodoo economics lecture

Ferris Bueller: Voodoo economics lecture

added by Rebecca Galley

Ebbenhaus Forgetting Curve

Ebbenhaus Forgetting Curve

added by Rebecca Galley

Keynote recording from ALT-C's You Tube Channel

Keynote recording from ALT-C's You Tube Channel

added by Rebecca Galley


Rebecca Galley
8:27am 3 September 2010 (Edited 9:14am 7 September 2010)

Facilitated discussion follows in room B62:

We are all doomed - come and take part in a facilitated discussion of the morning keynote, led by three prominent contributors
Hans-Peter Baumeister, James Clay, Martin Oliver
Join Hans-Peter, James and Martin in a discussion of the issues raised by Donald Clark's keynote

Go to main 'We are all doomed...' Cloud

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