Jump-starting lectures

Seery, Michael (2012) Jump-starting lectures. Education in chEMiStry, 49 (5). p. 22. ISSN 0013-1350


The concept of pre-laboratoryactivities is familiar to chemists.Students complete some work beforethe laboratory session with a view tofamiliarising themselves with anexperimental technique or someunderlying principles of theexperiment. Therefore, more thanmost educators, it is not a bigconceptual leap for chemists toconsider pre-lecture activities in theirteaching, with a similar purpose ofpreparing the mind of the learner.The underlying pedagogy of prelectureactivities is grounded incognitive load theory (see box, p25).As learners are exposed to newinformation, they process what theysee and hear in the working memory.The amount of information − calledthe cognitive load − that can beprocessed is limited, and depends onthe learner’s prior knowledge. Themore a learner knows about a subject,the easier it is to assimilate the newlyacquired information into the longtermmemory. Cognitive load theoryprovides a basis for describing howmuch new information should bepresented (intrinsic load) and how thisis presented (extraneous load) so thatthere is capacity for learning (germaneload) to take place. For learners new toa topic or discipline, reducing theamount of new information presentedin any single learning situation andpresenting the information clearly,leaves more capacity for learning.Pre-lecture activities aim to directlyaddress the intrinsic load componentof cognitive load. By providinglearners with some information priorto the class, the amount of newinformation presented during classtime is reduced. Learners have time toprocess the information provided inadvance, and if structured properly,they can use this information in a classsetting. This opens up severalquestions for implementation inpractice: what form the pre-lectureactivities take; how much informationto provide in advance; how to ensurestudents will look at this information;and how the pre-lecture information isused in class time

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