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The first time Kelvin taught about children’s play, he lectured about it.
He used this structure of participation not because he believed on principle that it was the best, but because it was convenient and used widely by his fellow university teachers.
In some ways the lecture proved effective:
• Kelvin covered the material efficiently (in about 20 minutes)
• He related the topic to other ones in the course
• He defined and explained all key terms clearly
• He did his best to relate the material to what he thought were students’ own interests
These were all marks of good lecturing (Christensen, 2006).
Students were mostly quiet during the lecture, but since only about one-third of them took notes, Kelvin had to assume that the rest had committed the material to memory while listening.
The students’ quietness bothered him a little, but as a newcomer to university teaching, Kelvin was relieved simply to get through the class without embarrassment or active resistance from the students.
But there were also some negative signs. In spite of their courtesy, few students lingered after class to talk about children’s play or to ask questions.
Worse yet, few students chose children’s play as a term paper topic, even though it might have made a highly interesting and enjoyable one.
On the final exam few seemed able to relate concepts about play to their own experiences as teachers or leaders of recreational activities.
There was an even more subtle problem. The lecture about play focused overtly on a topic (play) that praised action, intrinsic motivation, and self-choice.
But by presenting these ideas as a lecture, Kelvin also implied an opposite message unintentionally: that learning is something done passively, and that it follows an intellectual path set only by the teacher.
Even the physical layout of the classroom sent this message – desks faced forward, as if to remind students to look only at the person lecturing.
These are features of lecturing, as Kelvin later discovered, that are widely criticized in educational research (McKeachie & Svinicki, 2005; Benedict & Hoag, 2004).
To some students the lecture format might even have implied that learning is equivalent to daydreaming, since both activities require sitting quietly and showing little expression.
An obvious solution might have been to invite students to comment from time to time during the lecture, relating the topic to experiences and knowledge of their own. But during Kelvin’s first year of teaching about play, he did little of this.
The lecture medium, ironically, contradicted the lecture message, or at least it assumed that students would think actively about the material without ever speaking.