‘Gimmicks’ in the Classroom – Maxwell Hartt

7459407782_ced635e297Everyone has sat through boring lectures or classes. Whether it was during grade school, high school, undergrad or beyond, we have all been in one of these head-nodding situations. In fact, many of us have probably experienced far too many of these at all the levels of our education. Do ‘serious’, ‘intellectual’ lectures need to be inherently boring? Or is there room for creativity? Absurdity? Or a little pizzazz?

I believe that most students and teachers can all recognize the value in an exciting, memorable lecture. And hopefully, we have all experienced some of these at one time or another. So let me take the question one step further, is it right for students to feel that they should be entertained? Considering the high cost of post-secondary education, is it fair for students to expect a show along with academic rigor? At what point do classroom creative approaches become nothing more than antics? And is there room in respectable, effective teaching for such gimmicks?

To be perfectly honest, there is no definitive answer to these questions. As with many aspects of teaching, different people believe in different approaches. For the most ‘traditional’ educators, there is absolutely no room for such shenanigans. School and universities exist for the exchange of knowledge, not for entertainment. Games, costumes, videos and the like are merely distractions that take away from serious academic work. Adults should not need anything more than the quest for knowledge as motivation. Catering to child-like methods of engagement and learning are ultimately holding back the students from educational maturation.

On the other hand, why not embrace exciting, creative teaching and lecturing methods? Excitement and surprise can be extremely effected ways to engage students and build student participation. If the content can be delivered in an unexpected, upbeat or emotional way that will engage students and create a positive, electric learning atmosphere, then shouldn’t this approach be taken whenever possible? The students are paying to learn and if this best peaks their interest, why not embrace it?

University teaching has seen a shift towards participatory and creative teaching styles. Much research has been done to document the positive outcomes of such approaches. That isn’t to say there is no longer a place for traditional lecturing. Above all, the method must suit the material, the environment, the lecturer and the students. However, in general, it can be said that integrating creative approaches into lectures is a fantastic way to engage students as long as all aspects remain relevant to the lecture content.

This brings me to my last question, are gimmicks (something done to make lecture more exciting or captivating but does not necessarily emphasize course content or learning objectives) of use in the classroom as a teaching method? Some argue that these distractions take away from the material and are often, unfortunately, the memorable part of the lecture while the real content goes forgotten. Alternatively, excitement and classroom gimmicks can help energize the classroom and raise both participation and attendance.

I, personally, feel that when appropriate classroom gimmicks can be useful. However, it is imperative that the lecturer be aware of its role and does not accidentally overshadow the course material. Also, whenever possible all aspect of creating memorable lectures should stay relevant to the lecture content. Use the creative approaches to excite and drive home the learning objectives.

That being said, if attendance is low, lectures delivered dressed as a clown to a full room will be more effective then those dressed professionally to an empty one.