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Why One University Is Eliminating Lectures

The University of Vermont is the newest school to jump on board with the “flipped classroom.” Believe it or not—their school of medicine is eliminating the lecture, drill, memorization and test method. Over the next several years, the school will remove all lecture courses, replacing them with videos students watch on their own time. And instead of sitting through lectures, students will meet in “active learning” classrooms—led by faculty members—working with their classmates in small groups.

Why are they making this change in a medical school?

“We teach evidence-based medicine all the time,” William Jeffries, Sr. Associate Dean for medical education at UVM, said in an interview. “If you have the evidence to show one treatment is better than the other, you would naturally use that treatment. So if we know that there are methods superior to lecturing, why are we lecturing at all?”

But this change has not been easy. Can you guess why?

We like to speak. Instructors like lecturing. It’s the way we’ve always done things. I totally understand this.

Addressing the Elephant in the Room

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Here’s what caught my attention. UVM acknowledged that professors actually like to lecture. They become speakers over the years and find it fulfilling. “That internal oomph or dopamine release that you get when you lecture . . . is a barrier to converting faculty over,” Jeffries said. “What we need to do is ensure they have the time and support to develop alternative ways of teaching.”

So, the college is spending time and money expanding its Teaching Academy, founded this past year. Faculty members in the College of Medicine join the academy for 3-5 year periods, where they are mentored by more experienced instructors, attend conferences and workshops and complete self-paced courses. In short, the school recognizes it will require some time and energy to change its ways.

Jeffries states: “The overarching goal of the academy is to help faculty members discover teaching methods that can be as rewarding—if not more so—than lecturing.”

What I Love Most About This Change

The key shift for teachers and their administrators is to help each other to draw their fulfillment from something other than lecturing.

I remember, as a young leader, when I first started leading teams of people. I loved the art of getting things done and seeing results. I also remember, however, when I learned to transfer where I received my fulfillment—from doing the projects to developing the people. I eventually found it more rewarding to grow people and celebrate their achievement than to do it myself. I had to learn to draw my satisfaction from a new place. I had to mature, as a leader.

This is the same path today’s educator must take.

As a teacher, I also remember shifting my fulfillment from “lecturing” to “facilitating” discoveries on the part of my students. It’s a different mindset, but it’s worth the switch. Teachers must begin to draw their fulfillment from inspiring metacognition in students—seeing them reflect on what they’re doing and own their learning. It’s less about “me” delivering and more about “them” discovering. It’s tough because . . .

  • It’s a slower pace.
  • It’s easier to lecture.
  • It requires more creativity and planning.
  • It’s less about my talent and more about the students absorbing the content.

My Challenge for You: Become a Guide

My challenge for you is simple. Whether you’re an educator, parent, coach or youth worker, what if you examined the data and pursued what was most effective? Then, if a change is in order, remind yourself of what you are at heart— you’re a guide. You want young adults to learn, to grow and to become the best version of themselves.

“The most powerful tool the med school has to win faculty members over is that they are ‘scientists at heart’ and ‘understand the evidence,’” Jeffries said. “In short, students in flipped classrooms perform better than students in lecture courses.”

According to Inside Higher Ed journalist Carl Straunsheim, “At Touro, for example, the pass rate on an important licensing exam has climbed to above 95 percent— higher than the national average—since the college flipped its curriculum.”

So here’s my question. From where do you draw your fulfillment?


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1 Comment

  1. Richard H on November 19, 2016 at 10:57 am

    I confess that I’m opinionated on this.

    1. If “lecture” only means “an extended monologue,” then it is of limited value. Sure, there are some speakers that thrill us (depending on the subject and our proclivities), but most content – assuming content matters – is quickly forgotten.

    If the “lecture” is extended by note-taking on the part of the hearer, more content can be retained. Some will be retained simply because the hearer has made sufficient effort to engage with more than ears alone. More will be retained if the notes are consulted at some point in the future. Even more will be retained if the notes form the basis for conversation and questions after the “lecture.”

    But what if the “lecture” is more Socratic in style, more dialogical than monological? What if the speaker constantly bears in mind the need to capture and keep the attention of the hearers? What if the speaker is anticipating – and revising on the fly – the questions and responses of the hearers?

    Saying the “lecture” is dead is akin to saying the book is dead. They may well be if they are inert things just lying there. But that’s not the best case with either.

    2. Some subjects and contexts lend themselves more easily to “flipping” than others. Science and technology (including medicine as in the example here) lead to direct DOING by students. Within the liberal arts the aim is more directly UNDERSTANDING. Doing leaves us with a product, understanding leaves us with other kinds of artifacts (papers, conversations, etc.).

    3. Whether “flipped” or “traditional,” education only works when students take on the responsibility of learning. The “watching on their own time” (and what are they watching – technology-supported lectures?) or its equivalent is ineliminable.

    4. What juices me as a speaker, whether in a classroom or a pulpit (and in neither case am I immobilized by the furniture of speaking), is when my hearers “get it.” If I talk all day, profound hour after hour, it’s worthless unless there is uptake on the part of my hearers.

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Why One University Is Eliminating Lectures