Who Said Lectures Are Useless?

There are plenty of people in education who want to suggest that the lecture offers a very poor way of learning, is old-fashioned and out of date. However, I suspect that none of those people have ever taken the time to watch Professor Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University holding a lecture theatre of students spellbound in the palm of his hand.

His subject is Human Behavioural Biology and you might think there would be few takers for such lectures on Youtube. However, if you go and check out the lecture above, you’ll see it currently has over 3.2 million views. Sapolsky’s appeal is that he makes what he does look incredibly easy, and that’s a fine art. He takes complex subjects and through stories, humour and superb delivery makes them accessible.

We are truly living in an amazing world today. For those with the energy, the commitment and motivation and willingness to allot the time, learning can be gained from such a source for nothing more than the cost of internet bandwidth.

This is not just one lecture, but the first in a series of 25. That’s a lot of hours investment, but these days Youtube does offer the scope to speed up such videos. Even running at 1.25X speed cuts the time by 20%, without any loss of comprehension.

Before anyone asks – yes, I’ve watched them all. And it was worth it.

Is It Time To Ditch Textbooks?

Teachers who’ve worked with me know that I’ve never been a big lover of textbooks. Over-priced, often shoddy and poor in their conception, design, layout and printing and quite frankly only good for an add-on resource in the hands of effective teachers. One of the questions I’ve often posed is, “Who knows your students, in your class, better – you or a textbook writer? So, who knows what they need?”

Too many have fallen back on the textbook as an excuse not to do full and complete planning for what’s going to go on in a classroom – “Do Pages 41-43” is not a lesson plan!

When you talk to children, they will frequently tell you that they find the textbooks boring and repetitive in their style (each chapter invariably follows an identical pattern – the stuff, a couple of activities (maybe) and then a standard test to see if they’ve ‘got’ the stuff). When they first get them they may enjoy 10 minutes checking out all the pictures, but after that ….. Then, of course, there’s the weight. Add to that the frequency that parents want the textbooks taken home, or even request a second set so that they can keep them at home and the quest for memorizing the ‘stuff’ is complete. The textbook nows becomes the weapon of torture for all but the handful of children who happen (by luck, not skill) to have memories that absorb the material quickly and easily making them the winners in the standardized tests I wrote about yesterday. Children certainly don’t like the weight of the books!

Parents also don’t like them very much. They already figure that private education is costing them quite a lot and they have to fork out for the books at the start of the academic year at the same time as the fees, food bill, uniform etc. In most schools the timing is just after summer holidays when their bank account may already feel a bit vulnerable!

As time goes on, my distaste for these anachronistic hangovers from the past only increases, inversely to my sympathy for the parents and students. The plain fact is that the curriculum for our children shouldn’t be set by faceless writers churning out enormous profits for the publishing houses (who are quite often owned by the same companies that also make vast sums fro the standardized testing). Even where there is a pre-ordained syllabus arising from the particular examination board the school has affiliated with, there’s still ample scope for the school and its teachers to decide upon their own broader curriculum – what children in that school will learn, in what order and maybe most important – in what way.

Perhaps the biggest reason why progressive educators need to now question whether the textbook has a role to play any more is because of the sheer volume of alternative resources that are available – and that free, or within the costs of having an internet connection and a device with which to connect. As we know, in India and other developing countries there are millions of people with an internet connected device before they have access to a toilet!

In the past I’ve shared some lists of free online resources that teachers can utilise. However, I was very keen to share this article I recently came across from the US, that includes a list of pretty substantial free resources that can be used to replace textbooks in support of student learning. The article is a little US-centric, coming from a website set up to support American District Education Administrators. Nevertheless, it provides some great starting points in terms of resources and a good discussion about the process when schools decide to go down this route.

District Administrator – Schools Maximize Free Content

The other useful thing included in the article is some links and pointers for training and preparing teachers to do this work. We do have to acknowledge that for some it will start out being an uncomfortable step out in to the unknown and away from their comfort zones. However, as the article mentions it carries significant professionl development benefits as teachers engaging wit the curriculum requirements in this way and selecting the best resources to support that will gain valuable insights in to the curriculum and what the students need to be ble to engage with it effectively.

The days of the textbook are truly passing and this is potentially great news.

%d bloggers like this: