As some of you may have noticed, Inside Higher Ed published a version of my post on pedagogy from a couple weeks ago. In the article as in the post, I claim that while a good discussion is an ideal, it often runs aground when it turns out students don’t have strong baseline reading skills; I then suggest that if we rethink the purpose of the lecture, shifting from information delivery to preparing them for the reading, we might get better results. Naturally, in the comments, several readers were apparently responding to some other article, where I claimed that discussions are always bad and only a return to the traditional lecture can save us.
I made the mistake of joining in the conversation, which I think should prove my dedication to discussion beyond any reasonable doubt. I’ve provided an opening for commenters to suggest further active-learning exercises that could help prepare students in advance of their reading assignments so that they get more out of them. Perhaps we could also talk about that here. For example, I shared an instance where I literally just went through the first few paragraphs of the reading with them, in an interactive way, an approach that seemed to be successful but might not be sustainable for an entire term. Ideas such as providing discussion questions, etc., sound good, too, but I am primarily interested in something that you could do immediately in class, after I’d given a preview of the reading but before they had a chance to read it on their own.
I’ll admit that my article did contain some phrases that, when read through the classical “lecture vs. discussion” dichotomy, might lead one to believe that I was setting up a straw man version of discussion to fight against the best version of lecture. Yet I still maintain that if one was able to grasp my main point, namely, that lectures that are consciously formulated to guide students’ reading in advance could help serve better discussion, such a conclusion would make absolutely no sense — since why on earth would I be trashing discussion in favor of lectures at the same time that I’m arguing we need to totally rethink lectures to put them in service of discussion?!
This brings me to another pedagogical tool: using a course packet instead of making PDFs available online, to make absolutely sure that they are reading a printed text instead of off the computer screen, because my experience is that people read more attentively on the page than the screen and the technology is still not quite “there” for writing marginal notes and doing highlighting in a non-cumbersome way — though it’d be great if there was a good tool like that… and what if said tool could have a feature that would maybe block out your ability to use other applications for a set amount of time so that you would be forced to use the computer solely as a book instead of constantly alt-tabbing your way to incomprehension? Maybe I can write an article about that, and then get a half-dozen responses in the vein of: “Oh, here we go again with another curmudgeon trashing on the use of technology in the classroom. Guess what, asshole, people read poorly before Twitter even existed. I’m tired of the current generation being trashed just because you’re not comfortable with technology, etc., etc.”