I felt like my hair was on fire after I finished listening to Don’t Lecture Me! by American RadioWorks.

Stop reading this and listen to it now.

I’ve known forever that lecturing was only effective in certain situations, but I like many of my compatriots use it almost exclusively in my 101 classes. After listening to Don’t Lecture Me! I am more committed than ever to finding a way to reduce the lecturing I’m doing in my classes.

I was particularly affected by the portion of the podcast focusing on Eric Mazur and his work on Peer Instruction (read | watch). Mazur, a physicist, found that the students in his large introduction to physics courses were not learning very much. He argues that this is largely because students come into the classroom with preconceived notions about how physics works based on their everyday usage of “intuitive physics”.[1] He found that many of his 101 students were learning the concepts of physics individually without ever connecting them to their larger understanding of physical world around them. So even his high performing students were learning the material, but they were not learning to think like a physicist.* Sound familiar?

I’ve been obsessed with the idea that my sociology students were held back by their faith in common sense that they’ve garnered from a life lived with intuitive sociology as their only tool for making sense of the world around them. Put another way: many of my 101 students are learning the concepts of sociology individually without ever connecting them to their larger understanding of the social world around them.

Mazur’s solution is outstanding (in multiple senses of the term). Stop lecturing. Instead of covering all the material in the textbook during class, expect your students to do this on their own. Then your class time is freed up to focus on application and understanding of the material. Mazur asks his students questions, has them respond with clickers, and then work with their neighbors to ensure they have the right answer.

How do we know Mazur’s method is working for him, SoTL baby. Mazur uses a standardized test of physics called the Force Concept Inventory (FCI). Mazur found that his students performed much better on the FCI when he used peer instruction.

As I listened to this part of the podcast I longed for a similar standardized test of sociology knowledge and understanding. I am not aware of any such instrument, but if you are, hit me up in the comments or at Nathan@sociologysource.com.

Anyways. You owe it to yourself to listen to this, like, now. I am sure I’ll be writing about this again, but today I just wanted to start the conversation and draw your attention to the podcast.

  1. If you stop and think about it, shooting a basketball into a hoop requires a great deal of intuitive physics knowledge.  ↩