Tufts professors innovate in the classroom, avoid student backlash
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 10:04
In spite of the anti-lecture movement, instructors like Assistant Professor of Computer Science Benjamin Hescott serve as counter-examples. Approximately 250 students were enrolled in Hescott’s Introduction to Computer Science class last fall.
“Professor Hescott did an awesome job of teaching computer programming without using a computer in lecture, something I never thought was possible until I took his class,” sophomore Sarah Ruckhaus said.
Hescott explained that his particular technique is to use the blackboard and typically to begin each lecture with a problem from the homework assignment. Then he moves forward to new concepts and relevant examples that usually link back to the bigger projects students are working on. Hescott lets students’ questions and their preferences and behaviors guide his lectures.
“I come to class only with a note card or a rough outline of the key concepts I want to cover that day,” Hescott said. “But the examples are made up on the fly and occasionally I have to completely reinvent the lecture. “[Class is] a continuous conversation, where everyone is free to interject whenever they want to and that’s why close to 100 percent of my students talk at some point of the semester.”
Hescott views the traditional lecture backlash as a positive thing because it shows that students learn best through discussion. He suggests that instructors open up their lectures to more interaction.
“[Teachers] will have to let go,” he said. “Class might be slightly chaotic, but [they] should facilitate dialogue and get things on the board quickly when someone has a good idea.”
According to Hescott, the lecture could reinforce learning if it works in concert with the homework assignments and even lags behind them to give students enough time to think about the problems.
“It’s too easy to pick on the lecture for turning people off,” he said. “The reality is that in the STEM disciplines a good homework assignment followed by a discussion could really facilitate learning.”
Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Matthew Panzer doesn’t believe that the lecture will lose its importance completely.
“The active learning parts keep the students’ focuses and helps them maximize their in-class learning,” Panzer said. “However, if the professor wasn’t lecturing and highlighting some material, there is just too much information in engineering and it would be hard to get out the important ideas.”
From a student’s perspective, Partington said that in the future, lectures could be put online while class time could be centered on question-and-answer sessions and participation.
“With online lectures, students would have to regulate themselves much more,” Partington said. “But the fact that they would have to come to class and participate would be incentive for them to keep up with the material.”