When I was in broadcasting school, our lecturer and mentor, Pastor Bernard Opubo Graham-Douglas, used to say the golden rule for every On Air personnel is to get to the studio at least 30 minutes ahead of his/her show. I think there should be a golden rule for lecturers too because today I went late and it clearly affected the students — especially their attention spans.
As I tried to project my voice through the small speaker in front, which my aunt, Mrs. Nwinane — Senior Lecturer for the course I was tutoring — went through a lot of pains to hire for the class. Sweaty and still trying to catch my breath, the projector screen displays “UN Social Media team, Social Media Best Practices”, and this leads me to my first lesson;
Lecturing is stressful, I must confess. After lectures one day, I gulped two 50 cl bottles of water and still felt hungry. What is even more stressful is the process of updating your lecture notes. It’s so convenient to use the same material year in, year out for different sets of students. Use the same questions for your exams with few alterations, and not stress yourself too much. However, the truth is, with the pace of technology in our world today and the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution, what could be best practice today could fast become outdated tomorrow. Thus demanding that lecturers keep up with the times in order to ensure that their lectures actually make a significant impact on the lives of students.
I used a material which one of my mentors — Nancy Groves, UN Social media team lead — shared with me as some of the best practices and strategies the UN Social Media team implements. I realize that if I want my students to compete in the labour market, then they need to be taught at an international standard seeing that our world is now a global village.
Your lecture should be a dialogue, not a monotonous monologue where the lecturer talks for hours and ends with, see you in the next class. Students will definitely be engaged if their feedback is attended to and their questions — no matter how silly they might sound — are heard and answered.
I made sure the communication lines were open and I encouraged students to interrupt me whenever they felt I was speaking too fast or when they didn’t understand a concept or explanation. Students are very key stakeholders in this process such that if learning doesn’t take place, it is believed that teaching wasn’t done, no matter how long you have spent talking.
I was so free with the students — who are my peers, really — so much so that, one female student asked in a loud whisper, “Are you married?”.
Thank God my aunt didn’t hear it as she was standing at the back, and don’t ask what my response was 🙂
I’m not sure if the people that design class timetables understand the concept of attention span. I see some school timetables and I don’t understand why they feel there’s a need to cram everything into one day.
A good illustration for this is, you can’t turn water from a 100 liters drum into a 20 liters drum and expect to safely store all the water. After it gets filled to capacity, the remaining water just overflows and pours away, and this is same for many of our students in classrooms today.
Attention spans have reduced drastically, no thanks to social media and titbits. According to Wikipedia, unverified research shows that the average attention span for teenagers and young adults is about 10-20 minutes.
Lecturers need to focus more on making their lectures concise and participatory rather than long and one-sided because after the students reach their saturation point, whatever is said will only keep overflowing, just like the 20 liters illustration I shared earlier.
The infographic above explains the shift occurring in the global education sector. The classroom is no longer what it is used to be. The classroom is becoming mobile, our role as teachers/educators is shifting from expert to facilitator, and most importantly — which is the reason I even got the opportunity to carry out this lecturing project in the first place — knowledge is now an abundant resource, not a scarce commodity hidden only in your lecture notes. Wikipedia has a lot more information than you would ever be able to teach in the 1-hour or 2-hour period we’re given weekly.
Although these changes are huge in the developed world, it might take a while to manifest in developing and under-developed countries. However, the change will definitely come and only those educators that are ready for the change will evolve with it.