Pseudointeraction

Dan Meyer (or maybe Jo Boaler) brought you psuedocontext. John Burke and Frank Noschese brought you pseudoteaching. Grace Chen brought you pseudoquestioning.

I propose a new addition to this group: pseudointeraction, which is a classroom where it appears that students are interacting, but they are interacting trivially or only very few are doing the interacting. A good example is to check “USA Lesson 2, Part 2″ on this webpage by Oliver Knill.

I thought about this because I have heard a lot of mathematics professors say, “My classes are interactive lectures” (I have said the same thing myself). What this typically means is that it is a lecture, but students are encouraged to ask questions at any time and the professor will frequently ask students during class. Having observed many college mathematics classrooms by many different teachers (it used to be my job to view other classes), I think that I can safely say this:

  1. Giving the students opportunity to interact is not the same as students interacting. Worse yet, if only a couple of students interact but interact frequently, it can give the illusion that the whole class is participating. In fact, I would estimate that a very good “interactive lecture” would have at most 25% of the students interacting at any point during class. So three times as many students never say anything as those who do, and those who do say something will often just say 1-2 sentences during the course of a lecture. So it looks like an interactive class from the professor’s point of view, but the average student basically does not participate.
  2. The interactions in an “interactive lecture” are not the kind that we really want. The questions tend to be fact recall (What is 2+8? What is the derivative of 3x^6?) or speculation as to what the professor is thinking (What is the next step in the proof?). These may have value, but the students are not really interacting with the mathematics—at best, “what is the next step in the proof?”-type questions are an attempt to see which students are already interacting with the mathematics on their own. Of course, since the professor moves on once he/she hears one student answer, the only information gained is “one student was following the proof.”

Finally, note that I am not talking about people who lecture, but then break for a think-pair-share-type exercise (I am sure there are a lot of some people who say that they do an “interactive lecture” and really do get. And I am not trying to say that “interactive lectures” lack value, and that we should stop doing them (I have not stopped completely). But I think that we should stop calling them “interactive,” since the level of interaction per student is ridiculously small, and I don’t think that this is the right type of interaction. Perhaps we should just call them “lecture” and not delude ourselves into thinking that the average student is interacting with the material in any serious way.

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5 Responses to “Pseudointeraction”

  1. Joss Ives Says:

    Amen!

  2. Megan Hayes-Golding Says:

    If I read you right, I think I hear “The definitions of interactive and lecture are mutually exclusive.” For instance, If I hold breakout sessions with students think-pair-sharing or such, then defacto I’m no longer lecturing. Yes!

    At the high school level, many of us use questioning during lecture as a management tool. “What is the square root of 49, John?” is an excellent way to embarrass a sleeping student, for instance. We’re not really trying for interactivity.

    On another front, I’ve been guilty of calling a clicker poll “interactive”. Certainly, more students respond than during one-on-one questioning. However, lecture is about imparting knowledge, not opinions, not to mention the poll results are of questionable value.

    I enjoyed your extension of the pseudo- universe. Thanks!

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Megan,

      I suppose that I really mean two things—one local, and one global—when I say “lecture.” The first (the local) is that “lecture” is a particular tool one can employ in a classroom for a certain amount of time. In this case, I would definitely say that the tool of “lecture” is mutually exclusive to “interaction.” If you stop to ask the students a question, you are switching to a different tool (“questioning”) and no longer lecturing.

      The global idea of lecturing is “what does a typical class mostly look like?” In this case, I think that I could imagine a truly “interactive lecture,” where it is mostly lecture but there are some true interaction bits. For instance, if during a 50 minute class the professor lectured (with or without allowing for questions) for 35 minutes, did think-pair-share for 5 minutes, did two clickers questions for 5 minutes total, and had the students do 5 minutes of practice at some point, I think that I would not object to that being called an “interactive lecture.” My main problem (which you are helping me to clarify) is that this is not what I am seeing in so-called “interactive lectures” at the college level.

      I think we could define some sort of metric. Perhaps if the average student spends at least 10% of the class period interacting during a lecture-based class, then I might be willing to call it a truly “interactive lecture.” But (again), what I am seeing is that the average student interacts for 1% of the time or less in the classes I am observing.

      And I hope that I did not give the suggestion that all so-called pseudointeraction is necessarily bad to do. You give a good example of how asking a question can be used for classroom management. Again, I think that you are helping to clarify my thinking (thanks!): I think that I want “interaction” to mean “interaction with the course content,” rather than simply “communicating with the professor.” This is because the former almost definitely leads to learning, while the latter does not necessarily.

      Finally, I am curious about whether clicker polls are “interactive.” I think that act of “clicking” an answer is mildly interactive, but the act of discussing and debating their answer with peers is highly interactive. I have definitely written my fair share of dud clicker questions that do not promote students interacting with the material, but those take a minimal amount of classtime (it is the discussion that takes up time). So I would want to say that at least 70% of my clicker time is highly interactive, and another 25% is mildly interactive.

      You have a different experience, and I would love to hear about it.

      Thanks for the comment, Megan!
      Bret

  3. graceachen Says:

    Thanks for the link! If I can be so bold, I think the theme that unifies all of these pseudo- posts is that it’s easy to make it look like students are learning when they’re not, and it takes some careful observation and reflection to really determine whether their brains are being challenged. I think this is what you’re getting at in your response to Megan– students interacting with the content rather than interacting with the professor– and I would take it back to your second point in your original post– interacting deeply with the content and making connections or drawing conclusions independent of the professor, rather than simply recalling something they’ve been told.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Grace,

      I am happy that you were so bold—I agree that my post probably needed more refining on why it might belong in the pseudo-category. I think that a follow-up post might be good, given what you and Megan have made me think about. Hopefully this will happen next week.

      Thanks for the comment!
      Bret

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