Lecture Strategies

Though lecturing is considered the oldest method of teaching, it seems that most lecturers still struggle with the mechanics that ensure the message is retained, the audience stays awake and the lecturer receives a positive send off.  It's a wonder that lecturing as a teaching method has survived.

When a speaker brings vitality and enthusiasm to a lecture, people remain attentive and likely benefit from the presentation.  This, however, may suggest that lecturing is quite similar to acting which may favor lecturers prone to a more energetic and passionate delivery.  So, what do the rest of us do?

Research on the effectiveness of lectures is somewhat discouraging when compared to other methods of instruction, specifically discussion (McKeachie et al. 1990).  Fortunately, lecturing does have positive applications:

  • Presenting new content not available in textbooks
  • Summarizing disparate points of view into a more cohesive overview
  • Focusing the audience on important information

What does research say about effective lectures?

Lectures need to bridge between what's in the students' minds to the structures of the content to be learned.  So, meaningful organization of your lecture delivery is very important.  Consider what students likely already know and what they don't.  Analogies linking known concepts to new ones are very helpful. (Leith, 1977)

The lecture approach you take early on in a course may differ from the approach you take later in a course.  Initially, you might focus more on building knowledge whereas later in the term you might change to a more analytic approach as students have a better conceptual foundation of the course's content. (McKeachie, 2006)

  • Use multimedia to  help reach and engage your  audience (Mayer, 2003)
  • Avoid "mental dazzle" – presenting too many new ideas will overload students so they won't retain much (Katz, 1950).

Quick How-to: In class Lectures (adapted from McKeachie, 2006)

Plan the lecture body.  Probably the biggest mistake in preparing the body of your lecture is including too much.  It is helpful to chart out your big ideas and develop transition points to link thinks together.  The diagram to the right shows a simple lecture diagram.

Provide examples.  Remember to link things the students likely know to things you're trying to teach.  Thinking about bridging examples before the lecture will keep your delivery more crisp and focused.  

Summarize periodically. Since many students take notes during a lecture, your summaries of presented concepts help student  quickly review what they've written to validate their notes (a good technique for reinforcing knowledge retention) or change incorrect interpretations to promote better accuracy.

Check for understanding.  Lectures shouldn't be one-way.  Make sure your students understand what you've presented by asking a few direct questions about the big concepts presented (from your initial flowchart.)  If you'd like to layer a bit of technology to your lecture, this is a good way to use student response systems (clickers) to anonymously graph students' responses to key quiz-like questions about major concepts.

If you're using PowerPoint to structure and present your lecture, be sure to avoid all the common pitfalls:

DO – be brief; use large fonts (minimum of 28 pt.) and ensure contrast so that the color of the background it not competing with the text.  Your slide should be visually interesting and spark your presentation. Be sure to run through the entire presentation on the computer you'll be using when you lecture.

DON'T – put everything you present on your slides; use different colors and/or fonts on every slide;  use too much animation.  If you have 100 slides for an hour's presentation, you have WAY too many – cut it down to essential slides only.

Lecture Readings & Resources

  • McKeachie's Teaching Tips, 12th ed. McKeachie, W.J. et al. (Wadsworth, 2006) – Chapter 6.
  • The Joy of Teaching. Filene, P. (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2005) -Chapter 5.
  • PowerPoint Do's and Don'ts (humorous yet useful video from Univ. of Pennsylvania's Libraries Website)

Quick How-to: Online Lecture

(retrieved and adapted from http://cit.jmu.edu/useruploads/files/bp_lecture.pdf, James Madison University, CIT)

Plan lecture on the Rule of 7.  Seven is the maximum number of ideas, facts or issues that students can actively focus on at one time.  The number of items recalled will decrease as complexity of information increases. (Miller 1965)

Follow the Rule of 20.  Online lectures at OHSU are usually provided as voiceover slide presentations and should last no longer than 20 minutes.  If more time is needed, consider breaking up the lecture into several parts, each lasting no longer than 20 minutes.

Plan a beginning, middle and end. 

  • Beginning: The introductory slides should cover your goal for the lecture and state any important things students should walk away with.  This is a good time to link the students' current knowledge to the concepts you plan to introduce.
  • Middle: Use the same four guideposts mentioned above for in-class lectures: plan the body, provide examples, summarize periodically, and check for understanding.
  • End: Re-state everything you presented at the beginning (goals, links to current knowledge).  This is also a good time to direct students to online activities that reinforce your lecture's content such as an online discussion forum.

OHSU's Academic Technology Department suggests using Adobe Presenter and Articulate, both plug-ins for Powerpoint, are excellent products for preparing voiceover PowerPoints for web-based delivery.  Unfortunately, both are Windows-only products.  Macintosh users should consider using Keynote or ProfCast to achieve the same end.  Camtasia is a bit more powerful and is available for PCs and Macs.