Step Away from the Lectern

A quote from my June 3 blog post appeared in the October 18 issue of the New York Times. I was thrilled until I read the beautifully written op-ed piece. It proposes more lecture and less active learning. My quote was used to illustrate the perspective of those of us who favor active learning.
The author, a history prof, describes the various technology accoutrements found in her classroom, but she quests for what wasn’t present—“a simple wooden lectern to hold my lecture notes.” I loved this response from a community college faculty member: “Had I known Professor Worthen needed a lectern, I would have been happy to send one from the small community college in northern Wyoming where I teach English. After 20 years of teaching, … it [lecture] is a form I have largely abandoned.”
Lecterns come in various sizes and shapes, from small, moveable, tabletop models to large, stately edifices that are all but immoveable. They house our notes (and keyboards, now) so that they are readily accessible. But is that their only purpose? I took a grad course where the prof placed a moveable lectern at the head of the seminar table (there were 12 of us in the course) from which he facilitated an exchange that was mostly lecture. When it was going well, he’d venture out and stand alongside the podium, still holding onto it with one hand. When he moved to that position, we (yes, that includes me) asked questions that challenged his perspective or suggested …