The lecture allows us to do a number of things. Lectures allow us to create a narrative that ties together themes explored or topics covered in a course. Lectures allow us to explain concepts in multiple ways or introduce and/or review material in an efficient way. Lectures allow us to present arguments that are not available in a text. Lectures allow us to model modes of inquiry or investigation, such as applying a theory to a case, comparing and contrasting two concepts or theoretical approaches, close reading a text, or solving a problem. In large classes with separate discussion sections, the lecture serves as a common experience – possibly a source of inspiration – for all the students in the class.
The academic lecture is a mainstay of teaching in higher education. And although there is considerable research literature that demonstrates its limitations as a pedagogical tool, the persistence of the lecture suggests that it plays an important role in academic culture. As such, it is important that we think about how we use the lecture, and how we do it as effectively as possible. For this section, we define the lecture as any sustained oral presentation to students in which the faculty member is the central actor. The “lecture class” refers to courses in which the lecture is the dominant pedagogy.
Preparing the Elements of a Lecture
I. Working with the Structure
The first moments of the introduction are crucial because they establish the learning process for the duration of the lecture. The key elements to consider include the following:
- Gaining students’ attention
- Establishing authority
- Motivating thinking
- Clarifying goals
The body of a lecture engages students directly with the content. Here the key task is aligning the content with the purpose of the lecture to create a narrative structure that allows students to comprehend and think about material it in a meaningful way. In this section, we will explore common ways to structure a lecture, such as:
- Random Sequential
Ending lectures is nearly as important as beginning them. Depending upon how you have structured the body, the end of a lecture affords the opportunity to do a number of things that enhance the learning process, including: tying materials to previous lectures; giving students time to process the meaning of the lecture and reflect on its significance; posing questions raised by the material; asking students to work or respond to the claims you’ve made, the concepts you’ve presented, or the argument you’ve developed.
II. Mastering the Delivery
Delivery is the most overlooked aspect of lecturing, the assumption being that if your material is solid and the structure is clear, the mode of delivery will take care of itself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Delivery is to lecturing what grammar is to writing. The success of a lecture can only be assessed by its impact on student learning. Delivery affects every aspect of learning. When your delivery is good, students are more likely to pay attention; they are more likely to process what you are saying and make meaning of your words. Skilled delivery assists students in following along when content gets complicated and staying attentive when the content alone fails to keep them enthralled. Skilled delivery invites students to actively process the lecture, organize information, and question assumptions.
III. Preparing Visuals
In the era of PowerPoint, images and visual representations have become an expected part of lecture teaching. In one sense, this is great news; visual representations can greatly enhance student learning. However, the overuse or thoughtless use of slides can just as easily distract students and lessen the effectiveness of the lecture itself. The judicious use of visuals enhances the lecture by supporting the narrative, supplementing verbal explanations, representing complex concepts, and assisting organization.
- "Lecturing," Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University
- "Lecturing guidelines,” Stanford Teaching Commons
- “Effective Lecturing,” William Cashin, Kansas State University, the IDEA Center
- “Large Lecture Classes,” Center for Teaching and Learning, University of California, Berkeley