Wednesday, June 01, 2011


The Action-Reaction blog discusses the concept of "pseudoteaching". The post defines pseudoteaching as "something you realize you’re doing after you’ve attempted a lesson which from the outset looks like it should result in student learning, but upon further reflection, you realize that the very lesson itself was flawed and involved minimal learning". In other words, it looks good, so it must be good. The discussion takes aim at MIT Professor Walter Lewin who is known for his dynamic lectures and the amount of time he spends preparing for a lecture. Watch the following video to see what I mean:

On first view I thought that this was fantastic stuff - I still do, I wish my physics lecturers in College were as interesting and entertaining as this. The Action-Reaction blog reports that "attendance at his physics lectures fell 40% by the end of the term and an average of 10% of students failed Mechanics and 14% failed E&M", and asks if we are "Surprised?". The post goes on to say that "It looks like good teaching, but he was the one doing all the talking. It looks like the students are learning, but they were just sitting there watching. It’s like trying to learn to play piano or play a sport by watching your teacher or coach. It doesn’t work well".

Tough comment, but worth thinking about all the same. Lectures like Professor Lewin's fail in the end because there is no interactive teaching and learning going on. Richard Feynman (1963) wrote that "The best teaching can be done only when there is a direct individual relationship between a student and a good teacher".

There's a lesson for us all in this - "pseudoteaching" doesn't benefit anyone, so we have to examine if we need to stamp it out and to develop learning and teaching strategies that work.

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