Category Archives: lecturing

Drinking the wisdom of the sage on the stage: the traditional lecture on iTunesU

trueman170x170Over the past two weeks I’ve been making my way through a series of lectures on the Reformation by Carl Trueman of the Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. I understand the lectures form part of a masters’ degree. They are available free through iTunesU.

The first thing I should say about the lectures is that I am enjoying them. They are well presented, full of interesting facts, contain some interesting and sometimes funny stories, and contain a great deal of Trueman’s own scholarly analysis. The course is also very broad covering the reformation from a historical as well as theological perspectives (not that Trueman would suggest the two approaches could be divorced). I’ve listened to the first seven lectures, which have focused not only on the person of Martin Luther himself, but also the geo-political situation of the German states and Holy Roman Empire in the early sixteenth century. Occasionally students ask questions which try to relate Luther’s experience and views to trends and movements in contemporary Christianity. While this may be expected in an evangelical Christian seminary where the students are in or are preparing for ministry, Trueman resists any attempt to draw such parallels and always falls on the side of constraint. Luther himself is a complex individual, his theological and political thought evolves over his lifetime and he lived five centuries ago.

However, I did not start this post with a view to discussing the Reformation, Martin Luther or Carl Trueman, but the nature of the traditional lecture. There are an astonishing 33 lectures in this series, most just under an hour long. I don’t know how the lectures fit into the Seminary’s (orthe accreditor’s) credit system, but 30 hours strikes me as a huge amount of the contact time for one ‘module’. The students ask occasional questions, all of which Trueman thoughtfully answers.

My own practice as tutor on the Postgraduate Certificate course for new lecturers could not be more different from the traditional lecture. My own input is generally short, activities tend to be group and discussion based, and assessments are varied. I’m well aware that some new lecturers would quite like to come to an hour long lecture where they could take notes, not be called upon to discuss as a class or in groups and write an essay and/or a traditional exam for the assessment, but such passivity goes against what I believe about learning.

My own undergraduate study was very lecture-based assessed mainly by unseen two-hour exams at the end of each module. There was some ‘coursework’, but the exams probably made up around 70% of the assessment. Most of those lectures were actually very interesting, but it was the small group tutorials which encouraged me to learn think independently and develop intellectually into the sort of person who could undertake postgraduate study.

Listening to and enjoying Carl Trueman’s lectures has presented me with an intriguing dilemma about teaching in higher education. Trueman lectures are incredibly detailed. Each time I listen to one I look forward to the next. I almost feel I am walking in Luther’s shoes. However, I really need to ask myself whether this is the best way for Trueman’s students to learn? It is tremendous that I can sit in East Sussex listening to fascinating lectures from Pennsylvania, but I will not be taking the exams and writing the essays. If I had to write an essay, a project or exam I would be somewhat overwhelmed that I could possibly produce anything interesting or original. If I taught about the reformation (which I don’t and never will as it’s not my area) I would be very tempted to tell students to listen to these lectures., and use my own time in the classroom differently.

Perhaps it is the enthusiastic amateur (like me in the case of the reformation) who benefits the most from freely available online lectures like these. I listen to ‘sage on the stage’* drinking his wisdom in a way I could not possibly comprehend if he was in my area of expertise. Trueman relates stories of email arguments he’s had the various (named) individual scholars. He tells of how one of his book reviews exposed so many factual errors it led to a whole edition getting pulled.** This is a teacher and colleague to fear!

Note: I’ve picked on Carl Trueman because that is what I’m listening to at the moment. I’m sure my feelings would be the same of a lot of other publically available online content.

*King, Alison. ‘From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side’. College Teaching 41, no. 1 (1 January 1993): 30–35. (Not open access).

**Carl Trueman (2012) You Cannot Judge This Book by its Cover: A Review of Evans, G. R. The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence and Rupture. IVP Academic, 2012. The publisher brought out a second edition with corrections.

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Over 100 things to think about when lecturing (from 1937)

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Today I have been thinking about lecturing. A couple of years back I was struck by Chekhov's short story “A Boring Story”, (1889) a first person account of an elderly and unwell medical professor, which includes his reflections on lecturing, which he regarded as something of a trial.

This morning I came across A Critique of Poor College Lecturing (1937) in which a psychology professor asked 300 students how he could improve his lecturing. The students came up with over 100 questions the lecturer needed to ask himself. Although somewhat daunting and clearly from a previous age of higher education there is much of value here. (The figures at the beginning of each point indicate the number of students who suggested this question or something like it).

James D. Weinland A Critique of Poor College Lecturing (1937)Journal of Educational Sociology , Vol. 10, No. 5 (Jan., 1937) , pp. 307-315 Article Stable URL: Not open access 🙁

Regarding Subject matter

10.  Do  you  wander?

5.  Do you  stick  to  the  subject?

5.  Do  you  talk  over  the  heads  of  the  students?

3.  Is  your  treatment  too  complicated?

3.  Are  you  always  talking  of  general  theories,  never  specific?

2.  Do  you  lecture  too  technically?

I.  Is  your  subject  matter  poor?

I.  Do  you  believe  in  making  your  explanations  brief  ?

I.  Do  you  lecture  continually  on  the  same  thing?

I.  Do you  give  constructive  information  or  do  you  tend  to  confine your  criticism  to  destructive  ideas?

I.  Do you  sometimes  fail  to  speak  about  the  assigned  lessons,  allowing  the  class  to  wonder  what  it's  all  about?

I.  Do  you  arouse  curiosity  about  the  next  lecture?

i.  Do  you  talk  more  about  the  subject  matter  than  about  yourself?

i.  Are  you  original?

i.  Do  you  understand  the  subject  matter  yourself  ?


I4.  Does  your  lecture  have  unity  and  plan?

I4.  Is  your  emphasis  on  the  correct  or  wrong  part  of  the  lecture?

8.  Are  you  clear  on  the  points  discussed?

4.  Do  you  connect  your  topics?

2.  Do  you  make  clear  the  chronological  order?

2.  Do your  statements  have  clear  antecedents?

i.  Do  you  clear  up  each  topic  before  attacking  the  next?

I.  Are  your  phrases  jumbled,  incoherent?

i.  Are  notes  to  be  taken  down  announced?

I.  Do you  repeat  conclusions,  if any?

I.  Do  you  repeat  too  often?

I.  Are  you  too  slow  in  making  headway  in  presentation?

i.  Is  the  discussion  of  important  topics  too  rapid?

I.  Can  your  class  keep  the  pace  you  set  in  covering  the  work?


12.  Are  you  enthusiastic?

I2.  Do  you  show  an  inferiority  complex?

8.  Do  you  have  a  feeling  of  superiority,  swelled  head?

8.  Do you  show  force  and  vigor?

7.  Do you  talk  hesitatingly,  too  many  pauses?

7.  Are  you  overearnest  and  overemphatic,  too  serious?

5. Do you  speak  with  notes,  as  though  reading?

4.  Do you  speak  in  a  formal  manner?

3. Do  you  speak  directly  to  the  class?

3.  Are  you  friendly?

2.  Are  you  interested  in  the  subject?

2.  Do you  speak  to  the  group  as  a  whole  or  a  selected  few  just  in  front of  you?

2.  Do you  adapt  yourself  to  your  audience?

I.  Are  you  so  interested  in  the  subject  that  you  expect  everybody  else to  be?

I.  Do you  act  as  though  you  wish  the  lecture  were  over?

I.  Do you  make  yourself  one  of  the  class  or  a  mere  talking  machine?

I.  Do you  feel  at  ease  and  make  the  class  feel  at  ease?

I.  Do you  act  as  though  you  were  very  clever  and  your  class  very dumb?

I.  Do you  smile?

I.  Is  your  appearance  correct?

I.  Is  your  bearing  sloppy?

I.  Do you  have  some  dignity?

I.  Do you  look  asleep?

I.  Are  you  absent-minded?

I.  Do you  take  yourself  too  seriously?

I.  Are  you  in  too  much  of  a  hurry?

I.  Is  your  manner  indifferent?


58.  Is  your  voice  monotonous?

28. Do you  talk  too  fast?

23.  Do you  enunciate  clearly?

i6. Is  your  voice  loud  enough?

I2.  Is  your  voice  too  low?

8.  Is  your  voice  too  loud?

7.  Is  your  voice  raspy,  harsh?

4.  Is  your  manner  stuttering  or  uncertain?

4.  Is  the  tone  of  your  voice  unpleasant?

3.  Do you  have  vivacity  of  tone?

2.  Is  your  voice  shrill?

2.  Do you  lack  articulation?

2.  Do you  control  your  voice?

2.  Are  there  too  many  extremes  in  the  pitch  of  your  voice?

2.  Do you  fail  to  open  your  mouth  in  attempting  to  speak?

I.  Is  your  voice  weak?

I.  Do you  show  emphasis  with  your  voice?

I.  Do you  speak  too  slowly?

I.  Do you  speak  through  the  side  of  your  mouth  or  swallow  your words?

I.  Are  your  words  too  drawn  out?

I.  Do your  words  run  into  each  other?

I.  Do you  have  an  ascending  or  descending  inflection  of  voice?

I.  Do you  always  emphasize  the  same  part  of  every  sentence?

I.  Do you  speak  with  feeling?

I.  Do you  speak  continuously  without  a  break?

I.  Do you  "hem"  and  "haw"?


7.  Is  your  pronunciation  correct?

7.  Do you  use  big  words?

7. Do you  slur  difficult  words?

5.  Do you  have  a  large  vocabulary,  variety,  and  can  you  find  the  right word?

2.  Do you  say  "ah"  and  "ugh"?

I.  Do you  use  flowery,  literary  language?

I.  Do you  repeat  pet  phrases?

I.  Are  your  sentences  too  long?

I.  Do you  use  many  big  words?

I.  Are  you  wordy?

I.  Does  your  vocabulary  distract  the  listener  from  the  subject?

I.  Do you  have  relevancy  in  word  power  to  situation  or  mood?

I.  Are  your  lectures  always  started  in  the  same  humdrum  manner,

such  as:  "The  lecture  today  will  be  on

I.  Are  your  lectures  memorized  or  the  result  of  a  thorough  knowledge of  the  subject?


23.  Do  you  use  good  illustrations-in  place?

4.  Do  you  use  new  examples  or  stick  close  to  the  book?

3.  Do  you  make  statements  of  fact  without  illustration?

2.  Are  your  lectures  stereotyped  and  monotonous  or  do  they  offer  an interesting  story  ?

I.  Are  your  examples  clearly  given;  i.e.,  their  connection  to  the  principle  explained?

I.  Can  you  write  legibly  on  the  blackboard?

I.  Do  you  rehash  the  book?

I.  Do  you  use  blackboard  illustrations?

I.  Are  your  blackboard  illustrations  clear?

I.  Do  you  keep  illustrations  up-to-date?

I.  Do  you  bring  in  curious  information  and  the  odd?

I.  Do  your  statements  leave  doubt  or  questions  in  the  minds  of  your  audience?

I.  Do  you  ever  relate  any  personal,  outside  experiences  of  your  own?


II.  Is  your  body  position  correct,  head  erect,  do  you  speak  out,  use gestures?

6.  Are  you  nervous  or  shy?

6.  Do you  fiddle  with  objects,  twirl  your  watch  chain  around  your finger?

3.  Do  you  move  around  during  the  lecture  and  thus  keep  the  student's

eye  occupied?  (Best  to  move  around)

2.  Are  your  actions  such  that  interest  follows  them  instead  of  the lecture  ?

I.  Do  you  look  out  of  the  window  for  inspiration  while  lecturing?

I.  Do  you  stand  in  one  corner  of  the  room?

I. Do  you  have  disconcerting  habits  of  walking  about?

I.  Do  you  walk  up  and  down  and  so  disturb  the  attention  of  the  class?

I.  Does  your  constant  playing  with  chalk  distract  attention?

I.  Have  you  irritating  habits,  do  you  look  at  your  watch  too  often?

I.  Do  you  have  a  mental  handicap?


25.  Do  you  use  a  little  humor?

3.  Are  your  jokes  poor?

3.  Are  your  attempts  at  humor  painful?

I.  Do  you  try  to  be  too  funny?


4.  Can  you  keep  order?

2.  Are  you  irritable  at  small  noises?

I.  Do  you  become  impatient  and  sarcastic?

I.  Have  you  noticed  the  temperature  of  the  room?

I.  Are  you  extremely  stern  in  disciplining  your  classes,  thus  making the  students  feel  like  kindergartners?

I.  Do you  scold  too  frequently?

I.  Do  you  sound  irritable?

I.  Are  you  fairly  strict  with  the  class?

I.  Do  you  continually  call  down  students  for  their  lack  of  cooperation?

I.  Do you  lean  toward  favorites?

I.  Are  you  too  lenient?

I.  Do you  give  too  much  "blarney"?


5.  Do you  ever  call  for  discussion?

5.  Do you  give  an  opening  for  questions?

2.  Do  you  question  and  get  reactions  from  the  class?

2.  Do you  hesitate  in  answering  questions?

2.  Do you  answer  questions  immediately  or  wait  until  the  next  class?

I.  Do you  allow  any  one  person  to  ask  too  many  questions?

I.  Are  you  frank?

I.  Do you  try  to  answer  a  question  when  really  you  do  not  know  the answer  yourself ?

I.  Do  you  have  an  antagonistic  attitude  toward  questions?

I.  Do you  refuse  to  explain  points  unless  the  whole  class  so  asks?

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