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Alex Chanson

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Universities need to change the way they lecture

Many of us have experienced it; the dreadful, monotone, powerpoint slide reading professor in our microeconomics lecture hall. The heavy sweating, grade-dependent students are attentive at the front, while two-thirds of the student body behind them aimlessly diverts their attention.

The problem is not the material, it is the way it is presented. Professors are undervalued because they are simply reading slides and facts. Teachers need to be motivators instead of presenters. They need to encourage innovative ideas through more participation and interaction.

I understand that sometimes many of these circumstances are unavoidable. Some concepts need to be taught in these large lecture halls. The problem arises when students move through the education system, when they are finally in a smaller more concentrated class and they still feel they are in that microeconomics lecture hall.

The internet now gives students the ability to find what/who motivates them. Many rave about websites such as ted, kahn academy and academic earth. With emerging choices in speakers, universities are becoming less effective. It's much harder to be forced to learn from a professor who doesn't teach in a student's style when students now have the opportunity choose.

IDEA: How about incorporating these tools to stimulate conversation? Giving students direct links with motivating videos and stimulating news articles to watch and read before class! Then when they come in they have more to talk about and can debate ideas that encompass the material that is required to be learned. This would be more effective then sending required textbook material and reiterating the textbook material in class.

Any input or comments are highly appreciated!

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    Mar 6 2012: Universities do not dictate the manner in which a prof presents material. Universities are interested in money, endowments, grants, funding in all forms. Universities only make information available it is up to the individual to sort out the testable materials. Do you think that professors are necessary in the classroom / lecture hall? Do you think that professors grade your materials? The rise to on line for profit universities that offer video classes / lectures without the trappings are becoming schools of choice. Universities continue to shoot themselves in the foot. As much as I hate to say it .... brick and mortar schools may be totally replaced by on line for profit. This will probally cause more diploma mills and cookie cutter graduates. Administrators have caused the death of the once golden goose. A shame.
    • Mar 6 2012: Agreed, in many ways. For one, universities do not dictate how a professor goes about teaching their class. They attempt to use feedback through voluntary reviews, but unfortunately only a small fraction of the population rates the class and teacher (most of these being upset students). Therefore, their data is skewed and they ultimately do not conform to students preferences.

      The best thing that brick and mortar schools offer is a reputable diploma (compared to a relatively young online education), and networking opportunities. In most professions the people you know are just as important as what you know, if not more. I hate to say it, but a larger percent of increasing tuition is going to the opportunity to network and join an established club of professionals, while less and less is attributed to the education itself.
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    Mar 6 2012: At most universities, teachers teach in a range of styles, from engaging professors who use Powerpoint like useful road signs while they engage the class to those who are boringly repetitive of a set of slides. Often you have a choice of courses and the professors from whom you take them and can steer yourself toward those who appeal to you when you "shop" courses or whose ratings from students suggest they are effective. I know this has been my daughters' recent experience at a school very much like the one I am guessing you attend. Some courses at the university already do punctuate the lecture with videos (such as TED) and active online discussion boards.
    If your major requirements and schedule force you to take a course from someone who makes it kind of boring, could you not find some of those outside resources like interesting videos to supplement the material at hand? If you have trouble finding these yourself, can your Teaching Fellow help in this? In my experience, a large course often has multiple teaching fellows happy to assist.
    • Mar 6 2012: Although this is true in some cases, most cases this is unavoidable. Between administrative goals (making profit), schools do not always have the best option. Yes, there are cases where feedback from online sites or older students helps guide you into the right class, but overall most teachers have not adopted their styles.

      My point is addressing that not enough teachers are moving forward in education. This type of style has been a problem for a long time, and with the invention of internet / fast spread of ideas it's reasonable to expect that most teachers should be further ahead. They are not, and part of it has to do with administration's end goal of profit rather than quality. Many of these highly ranked schools know that spending more money on quality does not help them (profit wise). Students will continue to enroll and they will continue to get smarter and smarter students because of their reputation.
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        Mar 6 2012: Do you think that this is an issue of paying too little for professors in order to save money, or do you think that the quality of the professors' research is also an important factor that sometimes puts a great mind with unexceptional teaching skills into the classroom?
        • Mar 8 2012: It's a mixture of both. I've been taught by the highest paid research professionals and they are worse than many others. Since universities run their schools like a business (to make money and get higher rankings), schools tend to undermine the value of lecturing by employing great researchers instead of educators. Also, they can get away with paying low salaries to teachers who teach large required courses like basic calculus, english and economics.