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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Collaborative Lecture: A Hybrid Approach to Learning

As educators, we have often been led to believe that lecturing is “bad”, and it’s easy to see why. Just ask your students. They often complain of the many hours they have spent slavishly copying text from the screen directly to their notebook. And, to be honest, this practice hasn’t changed dramatically from Age of the Overhead Projector to the Epoch of PowerPoint (Generation).

There have been countless critiques of PowerPoint and the “cognitive style” it propagates with its built-in templates and slide layouts. Others have written far more eloquently about it than I have, so feel free to follow the links here. But for the last two decades of teaching, I have been attempting to design the kinds of presentations that have a greater visual impact on my students’ learning than the typical text-heavy, bullet-pointed teleprompter slide I created when I first utilized software such as PowerPoint.

Students also criticize the one-way nature of this kind of instructional delivery. So, in response, I have been using an approach I simply call the “collaborative lecture”. What this means is that whatever I present is not the “last word” on any subject. One of my students, Michelle, expressed it best when she wrote, “Even though the class does use PowerPoint to get information across, the presentation uses student input for discussions. The presentation does not stand alone as the final voice in what the class is about.” For example, I might lecture in my American Studies class about the history of slavery, or the “peculiar institution” as it was once called. If you click through the majority of my slides, it should become apparent that the majority of the slides contain a minimum of text, except when a long quote or image is displayed for whole-class analysis and discussion. Therefore, during the class period, the students take notes using their own words when I am speaking, making their own meaning instead of just copying what is on the screen.

But after class is over is where the lecture truly becomes collaborative and two-way. I always upload my slides to an online location so that students can access the information for their upcoming homework assignment. Each student is required to contribute a unique comment or annotation to an assigned number of slides. The contribution could be any or all of the following:

  1. The individual student’s written notes or a meaningful question, now attached to one of my slides
  2. A quote from the textbook which either extends or contradicts the information presented in class.
  3. An analysis of one of the primary source images or historical quotes

Here is an example of student contributions to the original presentation slides:


The tool I usually employ is VoiceThread, which offers either a free or paid version, and allows students to either type their comments, leave pen-like annotations, as well as record their voice or their webcam. But you could also use the “notes” section of Google Presentations and achieve a similar effect. Either way, the one-way presentations of the past will be forever transformed by harnessing the individual voices of your students, resulting in a new learning “whole”, greater than the sum of its parts.


Spiro Bolos is an 18-year veteran of the classroom, having taught a wide range of courses in Social Studies at New Trier High School. He holds a Master's Degree in History from the University of Illinois. His other specialty is Copyright and Fair Use education, through the Media Education Lab. He has presented at multiple conferences at the state and national level, and was named one of the Top 25 presenters at the CUE Conference in Palm Springs. In 2008, he became a Google Certified Teacher (GCT), one of 50 educators selected to attend a workshop at Google's headquarters.


blog: www.spirobolos.com
course blog: www.anamericanstudies.com
twitter: spirobolos
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/spirobolos

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