Ken Burns on the power of story
Tips on how to be more creative by John Cleese

Presentation: The need for engagement in education (redux)

Below is a ustream version of a short talk I did in the spring at TEDxOsaka. This repeats a lot of the stuff I (and many others) am always hammering on regarding school and the lecture approach to teaching.

What's the use of lectures?
Lecture_coverI mention Dr. Bligh's book in my presentation; I recommend the book. Bligh shares his vast experience as a college professor and supports his ideas and suggestions with good evidence. I wish we could all but get rid of the college lecture hall, but that is not going to happen soon. Still, there are things we can do to engage students that increase the effectiveness of the large classroom. Bligh highlights why the traditional style of a one-way, passive, teacher-knows-all approach to teaching does not work well and offers many tips for improvement. I also touched a bit on the approach advocated by Eric Mazur. Here's a longer video of Dr. Mazur explaining his approach.

Related links
Lecture Fail (Chronicle of Higher Education)
Article: 60% find lectures boring (only 60%?)
Interesting data on ineffective lectures
Tips for staying awake in boring lectures
Videos to help you rethink education, learning and school
The need for connection & engagement in education


a german fan

Dear Mr. Reynolds,
I like your presentation (as usual ^^) but I want to say that there still is need for ex-cathedra teaching. I am a college student and I love some lessons given ex-cathedra. There are brilliant professors that give great information and communicate with the students. I find it very inspiring. And I also know the classes with group work. Students that were on parties the night before and don't give anything into to process. Or just bad days and no one likes to talk much. A group is not motivating all by it's self. I think there are great teachers for both models. And don't forget, what you are doing (e.g. on Ted) is also ex-catherdra ^^

With best regards, a huge fan from Germany =)


>I am a college student and I love some lessons given ex-cathedra.

Thanks for your comments from Germany. Yes, what I (and others) are talking about is *ineffective teaching.* Of course the theater (or hall etc.) can be a great place for a wonderful, inspiring, useful "lecture" that engages. What I am talking about is the typical boring classroom experience. Now, for me, in college I studied philosophy and had small, interactive classes. But some classes were very large in science. Yet some of the huge lectures I had I really loved, but it was because the professor was inspiring and cared - he/she was great in spite of the lecture hall which itself is designed more to be profitable, not lead to good learning. As for short form TED-style talks, they are quite a different animal from a 90 minute one-way listening to someone speak. Of course there is a place presentations in large halls and teaching that places experts in front of students......

Michael Platania

If I could revamp the education system, the first few years of school would be entirely devoted to allowing each person to learn their own best method of learning. Some prefer to be lectured to. Some prefer to be hands on and discover for themselves. Some are visual. Some are audible. Trying to cram everyone into a one-size-fits-all model of education is ridiculous, and at 49 I have finally figured out how I like to learn, and it is starting to make things much easier for me. (I still get frustrated sometimes when trying to learn something, and then realize - Oh, I am trying to do it they way they are telling me to do it instead of learning my own way). I also think all information should be free to everyone that wants it, but that's a discussion for another day.

Mike Lewis

So I put it to my 10-year-olds. For science, I'd give them an overview of the topic, then just hand them a list of concepts. The assignment: create a visual study guide. They paused videos to take notes, readily asked questions, they even referred to the text book; all without direction. I watched them think abstractly about concepts, often as they tried to interject their own personal interests into explaining the content. It made perfect sens. They needed to solidly grasp the concept in order to create the visuals. They used online images, screeshots of videos, and if they couldn't find what they were looking for, they photographed their drawings.

Design thinking begs engagement. At every turn I heard, "Which do you like better, this... or this one?" I will say, it was a large investment of classroom time. But in return, students spent hours upon hours critically thinking, employing every higher-order skill on Bloom's Taxonomy. But most of all, visually communicating science concepts enabled students to be in control and be creative. And that made them happy. And when work happily, suddenly it's time for lunch.

With access to multimedia and its creation tools, visual thinking should be considered a "21st century skill" because, and you all echo this, you really can't begin to think about format until you have great content.

Here's a link to some samples if anyone's interested.

Mike Lewis

Sorry missed the first paragraph when copying.

Hey Gar,

I teach 5th grade. Discovering your work and the work of your colleagues reshaped my classroom. Now, I make a concerted effort about the structure and format of the information I'm presenting as opposed to just the lessons.

I found this thinking so meaningful I had to incorporate in my curriculum.


As someone who teaches I feel this is a big problem. I believe it stems from a few sources.
1. Most professors would rather be doing their research than teaching. Teaching is just something they are forced to do so they put in the minimum to get through it.
2. Little is offered in terms of how to give an effective class (Be it lecture or tutorial). I guess we just assume they are smart so they'll figure it out.
3. Some educators just don't realise how poor they are. Students are too polite with their feedback.

To me the solution starts with changing the model so that people that want to teach can and those that would rather just to research can focus on that instead.


Mr. Reynolds,

I've been enjoying your work and trying to shift my own presentations to reflect your suggestions. I work in a precollege educational setting, so my thoughts are specific to that context. I've found your work to suggest that educational presentations should focus on providing an inspiring overview (key points) of a topic that leads students to further study that topic away from the presentation. However, your endorsement of Dr. Bligh's work has thrown me off because he states that the primary purpose of lectures is to provide information.

Your following two points below (copied from your handout) are where I get confused regarding Dr. Bligh:

(1) your slides should contain only a minimum of information
(3) your handout will have still far more data and detail

If presentations are for information, but the "information" is contained in a handout at the end, what was the purpose of the presentation? In other words why do the students need to pay attention and what are they looking for in the presentation?


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