Good Social Science Lecture/ Seminar

  • Aspects of good lecturing
  • Aspects of a good interactive seminar
  • Combining principles in general and entering into a broad understanding of social science.
  • From teacher training into Further Education application
Learning Tutor in Social Science Presentation

I spent about a year in PGCE training being advised, sometimes through lectures, to avoid lecturing. However, in my times as a student, I found the lecture very useful and I did include snippets of lecturing during my PGCE teaching practice. This is because it sets out very well the basics of a road map ahead.

It may be true that even with notetaking perhaps the majority of what is delivered is not well remembered, still less absorbed. So any detail in a lecture is given with this forgetfulness in mind. But where the lecture is useful is in talking through the big picture, to provide a key to the door and the basic roadmap to give a student a way in to a subject. Of course the lecture must be given at the appropriate level. In amongst that presentation is inbuilt something of the ethos of the subject, and of the standards expected of the subject. A lecture can be considered as a dialogue with students where they communicate back with face and body language. The lecturer should at least appear to know the subject and give confidence, to move around, and hold wipeboard pens in hand. The lecturing space is in three dimensions and we all have pairs of eyes.

I did teach some sociology at 6th form in my PGCE. I had the tools of my trade, those colour wipeboard pens, and gave an outline of understanding for the AS Level students to link perspectives in sociology and research methods. So when I spoke of a collective sociology, as with Marx and Durkheim, they were written at the top of the board, Marx in a vertical space for conflict and Durkheim in a consensus vertical space also at the top. Max Weber was put somwhere in the middle on the conflict side and George Herbert Mead below as an example of interactionism down below and on the consensus side. When it came to research methods, large scale and quantitative methods were high up, and qualitative methods like participant observation low down. And other presentations used the whole wipeboard space, with joining lines between elements: a bit like mind maps then if without the hierarchy but with the colour. Of course the movement, the voice, and especially the eye contact are vital in generating stimulus and translation into their minds.

And it is important to talk diagrammatically too. Many lessons have objectives in as a way of monitoring achievement, so that these "objectives in" become "assessment out". Did they learn what the objectives said? You cannot do that assessment immediately in a lecture, except in looking at the body language. But you can provide a sense of argument and challenge for them to take away, to mull over and investigate. Although I am no follower of the narrow view of behaviourist education, of inputs becoming outputs, I am a convert to objectives and opening sentences to give an overview and provide focus. These objectives should be conceptually spatial, especially in social science where we make causal conections. Objectives guide the lecturer in planning too. A lecture should be like a short story with the punch lines (probably those objectives) delivered at the end. These points are what we (and it is we) intend to cover, and later what we covered.

So a lecture should be something like a good television programme then, without slaving to the pictures. It's broad sweeps, big themes, diagrammatically, strongly delivered if one way conversation, sweeping points: and now go out and buy the merchandise (do the work).

The aim and intention therefore is that when students pick up the books and journals and go to the web sites they have already been provided a way in. They know what to look for. This is why I do not like producing handouts of a lecture within a lecture - it is important at least for them to listen and write some notes too - although I do think a webpage afterwards is a good idea, written in some sort of summary form, and with additional supporting materials and links for personal work.

It is possible in a lecture to make the presentation feel like each person individually is being addressed; it is also possible to use the lecture to put across enthusiasm for the subject to accompany the ways into it being provided. This is where the eye contact and performance aspects come in.

When it comes to a seminar I see no reason again not to have objectives as a focus again. In schools' teaching practice, the usefulness of writing down objectives, opening sentences, getting into the work and providing interesting activities, was in large part behaviour driven, thus leading from the front and getting focus all the way through. The danger when it came to sixth form was that as behaviour improved anyway, lessons from the teacher got boring. The same is quite possible in FE. Lessons should not be boring. So in this type of facilitating we get more two way verbal and active involvement. I see a seminar as a kind of extended semi-structured interview, and that its questions and answers keep students on their toes, so students must be engaged. The semi-structured interviewing asks, especially after a lecture:

It is very easy, and quite wrong, to fall into lecturing mode within a seminar. The seminar could be a place to hand out additional information, but hopefully leading from seminar discussion. A student may produce a piece of work for discussion in a seminar, but I would be equally happy that each student was engaged in more direction seeking in active participation with the tutor. In the main I see the seminar as a place of monitoring and projecting forward.

In the end the tutor finds the seminar the place to ask the same types of monitoring questions of the students, and to plan around the answers. This can be done straight, or through interesting activities. It is about supervision and whether they are acquiring a social science imagination, the road map in the head that allows them to grasp aspects of social science causality and be able to join the dots of the information in the syllabus.

Adrian Worsfold