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Interactive Lectures

(written by Steve Draper,   as part of the Interactive Lectures website)

A summary or introductory page on interactive lectures.

Contents (click to jump to a section)

Why make lectures interactive?

To improve the learning outcomes. [The positive way of putting it.]

Because there is no point in having lectures or class meetings UNLESS they are interactive. Lectures may have originated before printing, when reading a book to a class addressed what was then the bottleneck in learning and teaching: the number of available books. Nowadays, if one-way monologue transmission is what's needed, then books, emails, tapes will do that, and do it better because they are self-paced for the learner. [The negative way of putting it.]

What are interactive lectures?

Whenever it makes a difference that the learners are co-present with the teacher and each other. This might be because the learners act differently, or think differently; or because the teacher behaves differently.

In fact it is not enough to be different: it should be better than the alternatives. Learners are routinely much more interactive with the material when using books (or handouts) than they can be with lectures: they read at their own pace, re-read anything they can't understand, can see the spelling of peculiar names and terms, ask other students what a piece means, and carry on until they understand it rather than until a fixed time has passed. All of these ordinary interactive and active learning actions are impossible or strongly discouraged in lectures.

So for a lecture to be interactive in a worthwhile sense, what occurs must depend on the actions of the participants (not merely on a fixed agenda), and benefit learning in ways not achieved by, say, reading a comparable textbook.

Alternative techniques

One method is the one minute paper: have students write out the answer to a question for just one minute, and collect the answers for response by the teacher next time.

Another method is to use a voting system: put up a multiple choice question, have all the audience give an anonymous answer, and immediately display the aggregated results.

Another method is "Just in time teaching", where students are required both to read the material and to submit questions on it in advance, thus allowing the contact time to be spent on what they cannot learn for themselves.

In fact there are many methods.

Pedagogical rationale / benefits

In brief, there are three distinct classes of benefit that may be obtained by interactive techniques:

The general benefits, and specific pedagogic issues, are very similar regardless of the technique used. I have written about them in a number of different places including:

The key underlying issues, roughly glossed by the broad term "interactivity", probably are:

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