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Bligh, Donald A. What's the Use of Lectures?
Jossey-Bass, Publisher (www.josseybass.com)
368 pages
January 2000
ISBN 0-7879-5162-5

Reviewed by Janice D. Schultz
San Diego State University

The updated classic, What's the Use of Lectures? by Donald Bligh, took me on an informative journey through much history and research about the theory and practice of lecturing. Because lecturing remains a widely used method among teachers in higher education and optimizing its usefulness is important, I approached the book with eagerness for new insights and ideas. Bligh provides a detailed and objective review of lecturing, and the book is important because of this historical perspective it provides. The author, who began his writings in 1971, was a "pioneer" in professional development.

Bligh begins his treatise by exploring evidence about what lectures achieve and then reviews factors influencing memory and students' attention. Next, about motivating students, Bligh writes, "There is little doubt that student motivation is an important factor affecting the performance of students in their courses" (p. 57). My attention was especially piqued by the author's brief exploration of surface vs. deep learning. "Deep approaches emphasize thought rather than memory. New knowledge is organized and rearranged in the context of the students' previous knowledge, not the lecturer's. Thus, its meaning is different and personal to each individual. Students using a deep approach look for fundamentals." Bligh continues that unfortunately "a deep approach is not normally achieved in lectures." In fact, he states that a high reliance on lectures only may "positively encourage a surface approach and discourage the very intellectual skills that higher education claims to foster." Bligh closes the chapter on motivating students by emphasizing the power of positive feedback (p. 61).

Part Three of What's the Use of Lectures summarizes lecture techniques that most effectively impact memory, attention, and motivation. Bligh then devotes twelve chapters to many of the specifics about lecturing, for example, organizing, emphasizing a point, preparing notes or handouts, obtaining feedback, and overcoming difficulties. In this section, I found Bligh's discussion about verbal signals especially helpful and reinforcing. "Discourse markers" are presented in an informative table (p. 124-125) and serve as a useful tool to help reduce lecture ambiguity.


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