Friday, 15 February 2008

Laboured Lectures Lack Lasting Impact

I have an enthusiastic interest in memory and how our brains learn. So I thought I'd try and learn some more from the experts using some of the openly available material from MIT. I came across something that looked interesting (well to me anyway):

Neurobiology of Memory: How Do We Acquire, Consolidate and Recall Memory

Speaker: Susumu Tonegawa, Director, Picower Institute for Learning and Memory

Tonegawa experiments on mice by playing with their genes and observing the resultant effect on their brains and subsequent ability to acquire and recall information about their surroundings. In doing so, he's exploring how memory and learning works at the cellular and biochemical level.

Now what was interesting about watching the video of this was how hard it was to get the value from his presentation. At least with the video being captured they had the opportunity to refer back. Not only that, a wider audience such as myself could benefit - even if only to a limited extent. To be fair, I did pick up an interesting snippet. Apparently Gabriel Garcia Marquez in "One Hundred Years of Solitude" predicted that sleep helps consolidate memory. Neuroscience is now proving this, and indeed I picked up on this just recently in my Snooze and Learn Faster post (which also caught Clive Shepherd's imagination).

However, as Donald Clark and others have remarked, many lectures are delivered without any form of information capture that students can refer back on (outside of their own notes, which perhaps aren't as comprehensive as they should be). It also begs the question that lecturers should first and foremost consider how they deliver their message in a more coherent fashion designed for students to interact with outside of the lecture theatre. Indeed wouldn't it be better to record the main presentation as video/annotated powerpoint, even with some level of useful interaction/visualization, and then arrange for students to attend a Q/A style session either physically or virtually? Surely the discourse and level of useful knowledge transfer would be a lot greater?

Granted, you still hear the argument that students will just not bother to turn up to lectures at all and not prepare for Q/A sessions, but I don't buy that. I was fortunate to be an educational guinea pig for my first degree in Information Technology at Salford University, near Manchester in the UK. This course was deliberately structured so that lecture session notes were provided for you, that attendance was for questioning and discussion, rather than a one way attempt at brain dumping. Interesting phrase that - "brain dumping". It suggests that what is dumped stays in one place, whereas we know we forget most of it almost instantly, especially without sufficient time for assimilation. Perhaps we should call it "fly-tipping of the mind" instead.

1 comment:

Clark said...

Lars, I agree that lectures without context are liable to be useless, but we happily go to conferences and listen to lectures. Why? Because we've been doing stuff that lets the lecture serve as a reflection opportunity.

Similarly, lectures shouldn't be in a vacuum, but need to come after some meaningful engagement (or, in rare cases, with compelling lecturers who intuitively or systematically understand good learning experience: motivation, concept, example, activity, etc).