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This issue of CDTL Brief is the last of a two-part Brief that features the teaching practices of the 2004/2005 Annual Teaching Excellence Award (ATEA) winners.

September 2006, Vol. 9, No. 4 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
The ‘Pavlovian Reflex’ in Students
 
Dr Lim Sun Sun
Communications and New Media Programme
 

Once, I was discussing students' responses during lectures with a colleague. This conversation had stayed with me for a long time because my colleague complained that NUS students were like 'monkeys', leaping into action (copying furiously) whenever a new PowerPoint slide was shown without comprehending or ref lecting on what my colleague was saying. Although I had had similar experiences with my own students, I had originally found this assessment harsh and the 'monkey' reference unnecessarily cruel. However, the animal metaphor jolted my memory of a Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov and his dog. He had induced in his dog a conditional reflex wherein his dog would expect food and salivate every time he rang his bell.

As I reflected on my own lectures, I realised that I too had induced a 'Pavlovian reflex' in my students. In a bid to make my lectures more interactive, I left blanks in the lecture notes circulated to students before a lecture and revealed the answers during the lectures. However, instead of sustaining students' attention and stimulating them to think of answers to the blanks on the lecture notes, I learnt that I was training students to expect a new nugget of wisdom with every change of PowerPoint slides. It is then that I began to understand my colleague's point and that the 'monkey' reference, while cruel, was not entirely misplaced.

Thus, now, I firmly believe that this practice is counter-productive. My experience has shown that students became obsessed with filling in the blanks during lectures, and would start copying furiously the moment the answers were revealed on PowerPoint slides without paying any attention to my explanation. With this realisation, I discontinued the practice of leaving blanks in my PowerPoint presentation and circulated complete lecture notes instead. To engage students in the lecture, I asked them questions related to their personal experience, show them clips of relevant movies and links to useful websites, and conduct short discussions in class. The transformation in my students was significant. Not only did students became more relaxed and started paying more attention to what I was saying during lectures, students also listened and took note of the salient points I made. Further, students became highly involved in classroom discussions.

By providing students with complete lecture notes, I disabled my students' 'reflex' of copying down what ever was shown on the screen. Instead, they can now focus all of their energies on understanding the concept and noting its complexities. As I reviewed student feedback from those years where incomplete lecture notes were given, I noticed that a sizeable portion of student feedback focused on one mundane issue-how I did not give students sufficient time to copy, how I should provide complete notes after the class and so on. But after I distributed complete notes, student feedback moved to higher level issues such as the nature and quality of my theoretical exposition and the scope of the syllabus.

While some educators feel that giving students complete lecture notes is tantamount to spoonfeeding, others believe that giving students complete and comprehensive notes helps students understand and learn better. Given my own experience, I am now strongly inclined towards the latter.

 
 
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Inside this issue
The ‘Pavlovian Reflex’ in Students
   
Applying Principles of Constructivist Pedagogy to Foreign Language Teaching
   
Holistic Approach to Educating Students for a Win-Win-Win-Win
   
Harnessing Work Experiences of MBA Students for Better Teaching and Learning
   
The Making of a Doctor— Perspective of an Anatomist
   
My Approach to Educating Students