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Dealing With Difficult Lectures

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.189.1 - 5.189.8



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Paper Authors

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Richard A. Gilbert

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Mark Maughmer

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Marilyn Barger Hillsborough Community College

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Renata Engel Pennsylvania State University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2465

Dealing with Difficult Lectures Marilyn Barger, Renata Engel, Richard Gilbert, Mark Maughmer University of South Florida-Hillsborough Community College/The Pennsylvania State University/University of South Florida/ The Pennsylvania State University


Lectures are a time tested structured educational materials delivery tool.(1) They also provide an educator a means to manage the transmission of course curriculum and concepts.(2) Lectures are adaptable but different when used in courses throughout an entire engineering program.(3) However, a critical component in the task of educating via an effective lecture is the lecturer’s recognition of the facts that difficult lectures exist and that they must be carefully dealt with. Difficult lectures are ubiquitous in all traditional 4 and 5 year undergraduate engineering curricula. They can be found in courses from the beginnings in calculus and college physics to the final courses on the most advanced topics.

Difficult lectures do not always deal with difficult topics. However, difficult topics are always difficult lectures. The proper development and subsequent successful delivery of a difficult lecture or series of lectures imposes an initially simply-phrased demand upon the lecturer, i.e., the lecture must be acknowledged as difficult by the lecturer. This is especially important for educators who present engineering and engineering science topic lectures.

This paper will explore and define some of the common attributes of difficult lectures. It will also contrast these attributes to those common defining “easy” lectures found in engineering courses. Finally, it will offer suggestions for identifying possible difficult lectures in engineering course material, so that a faculty member may adequately prepare for its presentation to a class.

Easy Topics that Lead to Difficult Lectures

Difficult lectures sometimes occur with relatively simple topics. The seasoned lecturer will recall times when students obviously had difficulty with a topic the lecturer perceived as straightforward or perhaps repetitious of earlier material. The challenge for the lecturer is to anticipate places in the course where these situations are likely to be an issue and prepare to address them as they occur throughout the course. The difficult situation is compounded when the lecturer does not understand the root cause of students struggling with easy material. Both students and instructor become frustrated.

One of the most frequent situations that students think of as difficult is when they view the topic as separate from the rest of the course. In these instances, students do not see the relevance to the material because they are not familiar with the big picture, nor do they understand why the topic is needed or how it will be integrated with the main subject of the course. Fortunately, these topics are easy to identify for the instructor and the fix is not time-consuming. For example, a topic that appears in an Appendix of the textbook almost always falls into this category. The

Gilbert, R. A., & Maughmer, M., & Barger, M., & Engel, R. (2000, June), Dealing With Difficult Lectures Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8259

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