With the best will in the world, we can try to structure our lectures so that the words we choose to say (rather than put on screen or in handouts) are geared to cause students to think rather than transcribe, but it can all come to nothing unless students know what they should be trying to follow, and why we are choosing to get them thinking in the ways we have planned.
Sally Brown & Phil Race, Lecturing: A Practical Guide, p. 78.
The increasing emphasis placed on engaging students in the classroom may confound some faculty who feel that despite their desire to involve students in learning activities, they are compelled to lecture because of class size and a prescribed body of information that must be covered. The curriculum does indeed dictate, to a large extent, teaching strategies, and the lecture, long the primary teaching method of professors, will undoubtedly continue to shape undergraduate education.
Given this inevitability, how can we guarantee that lectures serve our students well, promoting learning and helping to develop crucial thinking skills? Of course there's no simple answer to this question or to the problem posed by a largely passive audience wanting to know what, of the many things we say, will be on the next exam.
Lecturers begin at a disadvantage. As Bligh points out, lectures are most effective at communicating information, but less effective than other teaching strategies in promoting thinking, inspiring interest in a subject, or teaching behavioral skills. But this does not mean that lectures can't motivate students or provide the structured knowledge students need to explore and resolve problems in a discipline. Lectures can pull together information, especially current research, that students might not otherwise encounter, and offer them methods of organizing their reading of textbooks or supplementary material. Enthusiastic lecturers can help motivate students by illustrating why certain issues or concepts are significant-perhaps by relating them to life as we experience it.
As McKeachie points out, "Not only is the lecturer a model in terms of motivation and curiosity, the lecturer also models ways of approaching problems, portraying a scholar in action in ways that are difficult for other media or methods of instruction to achieve" (68).
In the end, whatever else we do at the podium, we want to make certain that as we lecture we have not adopted the philosophy of Dickens schoolmaster Mr. Gradgrind in Hard Times, who thought of his charges as "little vessels . . . arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim."
Books on lecturing and on teaching large classes (available at the FDC):
Bligh, D.A., What's the Use of Lectures? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
Brown, S. & Race, P. Lecturing: A Practical Guide. London: Kogan Page, 2002.
MacGregor, J., Cooper, J.L., Smith, K.A., & Robinson, P. (eds.). Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
Stanley, C. A. & Porter, E. M. (eds.). Engaging Large Classes: Strategies and Techniques for College Faculty. Bolton, MA: Anker, 2002.
Chapters on lecturing in teaching handbooks:
Davis, B.G. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.
McKeachie, W., et al., Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 11th edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Barbara Gross Davis: http://teaching.berkeley.edu/bgd/teaching.html
See especially chapters 12 and 13.
Idea papers: http://www.idea.ksu.edu/resources/index.html
See especially papers 14 and 24.