Learner-Centered Strategies for the Lecture Hall: an IAMSE Webcast Audio Seminar Series

Niamh Kelly Ph.D.1, Tom Angelo, Ph.D.2, Ronald Harden, M.D.3, Jeanne Schlesinger, M.ED.4, Stephen C. Ehrmann, Ph.D.5, Carol Nichols, Ph.D.6

1Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
227-2211 Wesbrook Mall
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 2B5 Canada
2University Teaching Development Center
Victoria University of Wellington,
Wellington 6140 New Zealand
3Director of Education
International Virtual Medical School (IVIMEDS)
Tay Park House
484 Terth Rod
Dundee, Scotland, UK DD2 1LR
4Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, Virginia 23284 USA
5The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group
1 Columbia Avenue
Takoma Park, Maryland 20912 USA
6Medical College of Georgia
1120 15th Street
Augusta, Georgia 30912 USA

(+)1- 604-822-0322

The delivery of higher education is going through a paradigm shift whereby the straightforward transmission of information, such as occurs in a lecture, is being reconsidered in favor of learner-centered approaches. A previous IAMSE Webcast Audio Seminar series explored the theory behind such Learner Centered Education (JIAMSE 16(2):48-54. 2006). The importance of a University education is not merely to acquire more information but rather to receive guidance around how to work with the information available. This is particularly important in this age of information overload where students need to learn how to sift through information; how to organise it; how to evaluate and critically assess it. Small group learning forums, such as problem-based learning, are promoted as learner-centered educational modalities wherein one can work with students to guide them in their acquisition, and use of, pertinent information. However, the lecture hall remains central to our Universities not only as a megalithic structure but, because the lecture remains the most efficient way to reach the increasingly large numbers of students that wish to avail of the teaching and learning environments at our Universities. Hence, the fall 2006 Webcast Audio Seminar series combined the theoretical approach to Learner Centered Education with the lecture delivery modality in examining “Learner Centered Strategies for the Lecture Hall”.

Classroom Assessment Techniques: Finding out How Well They are Learning What We are Teaching

The series started with Dr. Tom Angelo, presenting from New Zealand, on ‘finding out how well students are learning what we are teaching using classroom assessment techniques’. Tom is eminently qualified to speak to this topic being a well published author, including his seminal publication entitled: “Classroom Assessment techniques: a Handbook for College teachers” as well as a prolific speaker on this topic. Tom is currently a Professor of Higher education and the director of the University Teaching Center at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. At 6:00 am his time and in less than 50 minutes of our time, Tom helped us to understand what Classroom Assessment (CA) is, how it works, and how it can help our students become more independent, effective learners. He demonstrated with examples of simple, practical classroom assessment techniques that can be adapted to assess students’ learning in face-to-face and online settings. At the same time, he reviewed practical guidelines for success – Angelo’s seven axioms of classroom assessment – based on nearly two decades of field-testing. If you would like to learn more about assessing your students’ learning as an integral part of your lecture delivery please avail of Tom’s presentation at:

Learning Styles and Teaching Approaches in the Physical and Virtual Lecture Hall

Tom was followed by Professor Ronald Harden, a pioneering educator in the Medical Sciences, who has built an International Medical Program offered entirely online, namely the International Virtual Medical School (IVIMEDS). Ron, a world renowned medical educator, who had just recently been awarded the Karolinska Institute Prize for research in Medical Education, spoke to us from his native Scotland. Ron reminded us of the fact that lectures are neither inherently good nor bad, it all depends on how we use them. In pointing out that ‘the easiest trap to walk into is to plan the course of lectures you would like to hear’ he encouraged us to use classroom assessment techniques that would allow us to find out how well our students are learning what we are teaching (referencing our first speaker, Tom Angelo, in the process). Ron’s talk introduced us to a variety of techniques that can be used in delivering lectures that are relevant and interesting to our learners. Information about these can be accessed at:

Say No to Boring Lectures Whether Live or Online

After a break in the series to facilitate attendance at the AAMC meeting, we continued our weekly seminars with Dr. Jeanne Schlesinger exalting us to ‘say no to boring lectures, whether live or online’. Jeanne spoke to us from Virginia Commonwealth University where she is the Director of Instructional Development. Jeanne has given many University and national level workshops on public speaking and visual media and she regularly coaches faculty and students on these topics. Acknowledging the challenge that the Webcast Audio Seminar format presented in engaging an audience without the use of facial cues, eye contact, or gesticulations, Jeanne used her own photographs, interspersed amongst the slides, to engage her unseen audience. Jeanne’s basic message is that successful lecturing involves being prepared. She exalted us to: know our audience, our content, ourselves; to be real and to use relevant stories/case studies. To view some of Jeannes photography (with images which resonate of Georgia O’Keefe’s art), along with her seminar, link to:

Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Distance Learning

Dr. Steve Ehrman, vice president of The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group, and director of its Flashlight Program for the Study and Improvement of Educational Uses of Technology spoke to us on ‘evaluation of the effectiveness of distance learning’. Dr. Ehrmann has a Ph.D. in management and higher education from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has availed of these qualifications throughout his varied career in focusing on two interdependent themes: (1) how best to use technology to improve education; and, (2) how to use research evidence to inform our use of technology in teaching and learning. Dr. Ehrman challenged us to think about the following questions: “What do students do as they study?” “What do faculty do as they teach?” He pointed out how the answers to these questions help determine what students learn, and what they’re able to do after the lectures are over. A second governing assumption that he pointed to, when designing an evaluation of a course or a program, is to ask yourself, “No matter what I find, will my findings help people in the program improve what they’re doing and feel better about what they’re doing? Will some of what I’m asking be, from their point of view, a waste of time or a threat?” He pointed to the fact that if you want people’s collaboration in your inquiry, design the inquiry to help reduce important uncertainties that they are facing. For concrete ideas on how to approach this, view Dr. Ehrman’s presentation at:

Student’s Perspective on Lectures

Dr. Carol Nichols brought the seminar series to a close by inviting students from two medical schools to join her in discussing ‘student’s perspective on lectures’. Carol, a faculty member in the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), had presented aspects of her study which asked, ‘what do medical students really think about lectures’, at the 2006 IAMSE annual meeting. For this webcast audio seminar series, Carol invited students from both MCG and the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver Canada, to accompany her on the audio- bridge in discussing student’s perspectives on lectures. Carol presented the findings from an MCG survey issued to both freshman and sophomores over a three year span, which asked about their ‘interests, attitudes and approaches to learning’. Survey results indicated that:

    •65% of freshmen and 56% of sophomores think lecturing is an effective teaching method for the basic sciences
    •students would like to see more discussion of case studies and more independent learning complement lectures
    •students appreciate the use of interactive learning strategies during lecture; and
    •students’ asked for teaching expertise in addition to content expertise.

In the lively discussion that followed Carol’s presentation, Ian Becker and Tristan Walker (from UBC) and Shannon Klucsarits and David Heinsch (from MCG) cogently answered questions ranging from students attendance at lectures to how students use lecture material in preparing for the exams. Carol had purposefully left a full 30 minutes to allow for discussion. The time was completely filled with question after question directed to the students in what was definitely the best discussion following any of the seminars in this series. We are grateful to the students for their time and candor in allowing the audience to round out this seminar series with a genuinely leaner centered discussion. To hear the discussion that ensued between the audience and the students go to:

Published Page Numbers: 18-20