16 August 2013

Teaching versus lecturing

Believe it or not, I don't post everything I write on this blog, but this email brings up some interesting issues:
In the EEES Final Key [pdf], you wrote something I haven't read anywhere else during my time at Wageningen UR (1,5 years), and I thank you for it. I know it's slightly strange, but I do appreciate people like yourself making an effort to make a difference in thinking. You actually used the words teach vs lecture, stressing the difference and your opinion - and for that, I thank you.
The key says:
Note from David: Many of you had a hard time (=low points) with my questions, usually because you did not read the question and/or consider the economics of the situation. As I told you many times, real economics is NOT about math and assumptions that whose “solutions” actually work. Real economics is about understanding incentives and choices and how to move people in the “right” direction.

I hope that you will take ten minutes to compare your answers to my answers, to see where you were not thinking like an economist. Some of you may only care about your scores. Others, hopefully, will learn from your mistakes and THEN see how you can make a difference OUTSIDE of WUR with the improved understanding you gained in this class. As I mentioned, I wanted to teach – not lecture – you in this class, since learning lasts far longer than a grade. (I also wish that we had more than 3 weeks to “get to know each other” on these issues, as it takes some time to move from copy/paste the lecture notes to critical thinking.) Let’s have a coffee and discuss these questions – and anything else in economics or education. Email me at dzetland@gmail.com.
I didn't get any emails from my students, and I am not sure if any of them took my words to heart, but I had to say what I did and will keep teaching the way I do -- when I teach two classes at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver in the Spring -- because I hate the current paradigm of crushing curious and inventive young brains under the weight of rote learning and worthless test regurgitation.

It's unfortunate that many professors are pleased to have students memorize bullet points off ten year-old slides, just as it's unfortunate that many teachers are rated based on their ability to advance through centralized lesson plans rather than develop student skills and feed their curiosity.

Bottom Line: Students want to learn. Help them or get out of the way.

For more on these issues, I HIGHLY recommend watching these TED talks:


  1. Again, I agree that learning is more important, longer lasting than listening to talks.
    Cheers from Glasgow and happy birthday!

  2. Jane Wagner-Tyack16 August, 2013 23:19

    Alas, not all students want to learn. Some of them just want to get a grade and move on. That's why you didn't get any email responses from students. You should certainly keep teaching rather than lecturing, but don't expect much appreciation for it.

  3. When I was taking classes, I would normally have epiphany moments weeks after final exams. Whenever I did, I always made an attempt to try and e-mail the professor my thanks for teaching the subject matter and - when possible - try to see if my sudden thoughts on the subject were actually a dawning understanding or if I was still off the mark.

    I really did enjoy those professors who ran the extra mile to teach instead of lecture, and I've tried to do the same thing in my own teaching.


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