Photo of large empty lecture hall.

We invite our readers to offer their own insights about teaching in response to articles in the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology newsletter. The January newsletter described both a New York Times guest editorial that praised the traditional lecture approach and the counterpoint views of two other academics. We received several reader comments. With the permission of the writers, we are publishing two here.

Professor of Mathematics Victor Camillo begins by distinguishing two understandings of the word “lecture.” One of the NYT respondents contrasted “lecture as a form of pre-scripted continuous exposition by the teacher” with “direct instruction that is responsive to students.” Camillo shares a view also expressed in a recent blog post by Vanderbilt University Teaching Center Director and Senior Lecturer in Mathematics Derek Bruff that, “when many college instructors hear the word ‘lecture,’ they don’t think ‘continuous exposition by the teacher.’ They think of lectures as classes in which students are regularly engaged in active learning.”

In his message to us, Camillo explains that in his courses:

I review a lot; at least 25% of the course is devoted to going over past exams, giving students a few minutes to at least start each problem. I post twelve past exams with separate solutions so that students can practice. This implements ‘The worked example effect’ and ‘Spacing from cognitive psychology’.

I have innovated over the years, emphasizing student involvement, more exams—viewed as learning checks I hope—weekly quizzes, online homework.

Over and over I say, ‘I am going to teach you this idea by example.’  I can't repeat what I say about textbooks, except they are thick so they can be sold by the pound. 

I strongly encourage interactive learning, especially doing homework in groups or working in a math lab of some sort.  I am thinking of moving to clickers to promote student engagement.  Maybe the real issue is culture:  Educators love formalism; that's what they get paid for.  But I find delivering 50 minutes of lecture boring. 

Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology Marc Pizzimenti described the results of a recent survey of faculty and staff at the Carver College of Medicine regarding their expectations of lectures. The researchers found that “compared to students, faculty members were significantly more likely to expect that live lectures provide students with critical thinking skills, motivation to learn, and opportunities for interaction with faculty members. Students were significantly more likely to expect that live lectures facilitate social support. Our results suggest that examining the perspectives of students and faculty about the purpose of lectures may reveal differences in their expectations. Curricular models may benefit from creating an environment where faculty members, in collaboration with students, consider the appropriate uses and limitations of lectures.” As a result, the new medical curriculum contains more opportunity for large-group and peer-to-peer discussion. 


Rysavy, M., Christine, P., Lenoch, S., & Pizzimenti, M. A. (2015). Student and Faculty Perspectives on the Use of Lectures in the Medical School Curriculum. Med.Sci.Educ. Medical Science Educator, 25(4), 431-437.