To Lecture or Not To Lecture


The case was written for use by the Association for Case Teaching to introduce case teaching as an active learning strategy for the theological classroom. Long standing tensions at Nelson Seminary erupted at a faculty meeting as the professors examined various complaints with the distance education program. All of Dr. Roland Stanford’s leadership and mediation skills would be needed as he managed the various philosophical approaches to classroom pedagogy in both the residential and distance learning contexts. Topics include: case teaching, conflict resolution, distance education, and active learning strategies.

To Lecture, Or Not to Lecture

Dean Roland Stanford sat at his desk staring at the minutes from last week’s ad-hoc meeting. He glanced at his watch. “2:56 p.m.” He wondered to himself why these kinds of meetings always seemed to be scheduled so late in the day. Four o’clock would be here before he knew it.

Last week’s meeting adjourned abruptly when Tom Fryer, tenured professor of New Testament, dismissed himself saying, “We are talking in circles. I hate meetings where nothing is decided. Roland, if you don’t get a handle on some of the new faculty, then the whole curriculum will suffer. I’m tired of students taking my seminars who still do not know the difference between Barth and Bultmann.”

Tom Fryer and George Tucker had called the meeting shortly after George, associate dean of continuing education, received several complaining emails from students who were all part of the recent initiative to recruit second career students to the seminary. Nelson Seminary’s umbilical connection to the larger university generated a culture of attracting only recent graduates. The average age in Nelson’s M.Div. program lingered at 24. Tucker, a former electrical engineer himself before entering the ministry, came to Nelson after a successful teaching career at Fuller. Stanford hired him specifically to coordinate Nelson’s diversification initiatives.

Stanford looked at the minutes again. He slowly read through each item.


March 12, 2008

Attending: Tom Fryer, George Tucker, Roland Stanford, Jessica Daly, Hassid Ner, and Kimberly Jackson.

1. George passed out a series of emails to the group.[i] After everyone finished reading, George set an agenda for the meeting: I believe our efforts to transform the classroom with newer approaches to teaching is doing a disservice to many of the students we are here to serve. Most of these students need more traditional approaches to education.

Stanford stopped reading for a moment. He reflected on how much George loved to lecture. Previous attempts to get him to consider changing his style had all been summarily dismissed. George often chided other faculty saying “I think that too many of us have forgotten how effective a good ol’ fashioned lecture can be.”

2. Dr. Stanford passed out another memo.[ii] “This is from Terri Clifton, one of the unnamed professors in the emails, who I asked to respond to me about the complaint.”

Stanford knew Clifton was one of Nelson Seminaries most popular professors. “Why in the world was George paying so much attention to these emails,” he muttered under his breath. He had agreed with Hassid when Hassid had leaned over to him during the meeting and whispered, “I still enjoy lecturing too. It is the best way that I can cover all that I want to in a single semester. But I too hear feedback from students that they do not have the time to reflect, discuss, and review the material covered. Why didn’t those students email or contact the teacher directly?” Stanford made a note, “review policy regarding appropriate feedback loops.”

3. Kimberly Jackson reminded the group of the McKeachie[iii] book given to the entire faculty at last year’s faculty development seminar. She said, “Lecture is as effective as any other method in conveying factual knowledge but that on other criteria such as attitude change, development of thinking, and problem solving, the lecture falls short of more student-active methods. We have encouraged faculty to make a shift from an information-delivery model to a student-learning model. We need to proceed full-steam ahead.”

“Kim was always the voice of reason,” Stanford thought. Her coaching had helped him to successfully transition out of the classroom. Kim always protected her own. Although Terri was at least 12 years behind Stanford in school, both remembered fondly sitting at Kim’s feet in class. He remembered when Kim scolded the others during the meeting, “How any of you could question a teacher like Terri is beyond me?” But then Stanford remembered Tom’s outburst; “McKeachie also talked about good lectures citing several studies in support of them. He also wrote about how to improve them and the value of note taking. There is good reason why lecture is still the most popular form of teaching.” Stanford wondered, “Why is Tom so intense about this subject? Something else must be going on.”

4. Jessica Daly noted, “Seminaries have always had difficulty in dealing with the delivery of courses designed to prepare students for entry into a professional practice. Past attitudes concerning the construction of curricula conveniently ignores the fact that through experience and reflecting, thinking practitioners construct a personal form of knowledge about what they do. In busy ministries, good pastors do not necessarily engage in a hypothetical, deductive form of reasoning; they simply enact what works for them. This largely tacit form of knowledge is embedded in their actions.”[1]

Stanford thought, “Jessica’s long tenure in the pastorate, field supervision, and experience with ATFE had proven again the value of life experience in the classroom.” And yet often George, Tom, and other older faculty often dismissed her contributions to meetings. Stanford jotted down another note, “Emphasize item #4.”

5. A discussion concerning older students continued for several minutes. George Tucker summarized, “The ever upward progression of an educated adult population and work force and the reduction in high-paying jobs that require little advanced education might be the single most powerful factor in the maintenance of an ever increasing older student enrollment.”

Stanford poured himself another cup of coffee. Looking out the window he remembered that this is when Jessica had said, “We are aware that our classrooms are more diverse. That is the very reason we must recognize the need for a variety of teaching techniques.” She looked at Tom and George’s side of the room only. Stanford wondered, “was she trying to say something to affirm George’s role in recruiting older students or was she sending Tom a message. That is when Tom snapped back, “We’ve all learned to reason and put into practice the knowledge we learned in school. Most of our skills came after graduation. Anyway, that is the purpose of the practicums, internships, and ministry classes. There is an essential body of knowledge that every graduate from this school should have at his or her disposal.”

And Stanford remembered that George had turned quickly to Tom and said, “The students in question think in more complex ways due to cognitive development. They are on a more mature and intellectual stage. Older students bring a diverse background to the classroom. These experiences should enhance the learning experience for all students. Older students tend to keep appointments and complete assignments on time. These students should be welcomed and appreciated. The teacher needs to respect this stage of life. These student’s goals and motives for pursuing more education need to be appreciated.” “Now,” Stanford questioned, “was George agreeing with Jessica or Tom?” Stanford added to his list, “diversity of student body = diversity of teaching techniques???”

6. Kimberly Jackson, “I just read a study by Cavanaugh[iv] stating it takes more time for us older adults to turn sensory memory into working memory. Therefore, more time in practice, exercise, digesting of material, and demonstration is needed. Then Cavanaugh notes that once the older student makes connections, retrieval of information is the same. Also, pairing older students with traditional students would create a synthesis of learning not available in homogeneous groups.”  [some discussion continued …]

Stanford’s head began to pound. He thought, “Dorothy must have lost track of who said what too.” Even during the meeting Stanford remembering thinking that only Kim had the ethos to say what she said, but even then, everyone started talking at once.

7. The question was addressed to Dr. Stanford, “How do we support new faculty? Do we provide training and support for the classroom? None of us came out of school with the skills to teach.”

“I guess I shouldn’t have ignored that question,” Stanford reflected. “I guess I thought it was self-evident.”

8. George asked, “Why did we spend all the money to remodel the three lecture halls to look like highly technical theaters and in many cases with fixed tiered seating? I like the new seating but much of the data projection and video equipment creates a barrier between the teacher and the students.”[2]

Stanford recalled how his predecessor had raised a significant amount of money for the renovations. “I am amazed,” he grimaced, “about how short-sighted we sometimes are about facilities. Sometimes these four walls determine more about our mission than people do.” Hassid said something then, something important. … He said, “I know that my classes are far more effective in the new rooms and we need to stay the course. Is this really about whether to lecture or not to lecture?” Stanford mused, “It sure is hard to figure out which side of the fence Hassid is on, but I think he is often the one to cut to the chase.”

9. Dr. Stanford answered, “While lecturing is regarded by many as a constrained and inflexible way of teaching, the reality is that teachers have enormous possibilities and freedom within the classroom. Yet when a course is a necessary foundational course or a prerequisite, then it is the responsibility of the instructor to cover the material. Students have an implied contract to learn what the instructor indicates on the syllabus. In these type courses, much of the material is unavailable any other way. The instructor needs to provide direction and continuity.”[3]

“I guess Hassid is not the only one who argues both sides.” Stanford re-read point 9 several times. Then he heard Kim’s voice loud and clear. She didn’t even look his way when she said, “Yet we all know of too many who still see the classroom as a 55-minute uninterrupted discourse from the teacher with no discussion between students and no student activity other than listening and note-taking.”

Was it Kim’s remark that made Tom push away from the table? Stanford pulled a post-it note from the pad. “Find out what’s bugging Tom,” he wrote. He pasted the note in his Day-Timer thinking, “I can’t have Tom disrupt any more meetings like that.”

10. Dr. Stanford concluded, “Since some of us have other engagements, let’s meet again this time next week.”

Respectfully Submitted, Dorothy North

Stanford remembered how Kim had lingered at the door after the meeting had adjourned. “Roland,” she insisted as she enunciated her words slowly. “It is not enough just to know how you would resolve each of these issues. You must provide this faculty with a clear vision and a prioritized agenda so that a coherent and unified philosophy will propel Nelson Seminary into the forefront of theological education.” Although Kim neared retirement, her commitment to new learning strategies earned her the respect of students and faculty. Her own courses in Church History modeled an innovative and effective classroom. No matter what else occurred, he knew he wanted teachers like Kim affirmed.

Stanford glanced at his watch again. “4:12 p.m.” He walked to the conference room door and paused, head bowed, eyes closed, knuckles clenched white around the knob. Dorothy had already informed him that everyone else arrived on time ten minutes ago. Stanford bit his lip as he stepped through the door followed closely by Dorothy.

Teaching Note

The case was written for use by the Association for Case Teaching to introduce case teaching as an active learning strategy for the theological classroom. Long standing tensions at Nelson Seminary erupted at a faculty meeting as the professors examined various complaints with the distance education program. All of Dr. Roland Stanford’s leadership and mediation skills would be needed as he managed the various philosophical approaches to classroom pedagogy in both the residential and distance learning contexts. Topics include: case teaching, conflict resolution, distance education, and active learning strategies.


  1. The case offers a variety of issues that could be selected for analysis. Select 2-3 learning objectives that correlate with the issues that are anticipated in your context.
  2. Examples:
    1. To analyze pedagogical strategies employed by university professors.
    2. To explore and practice conflict resolution skills by academic leaders.
    3. To compare and contrast the residential classroom with the distance learning environment.
    4. To introduce and model case teaching as an alternative to lecture.


  1. Utilize a “pair sharing” activity by asking the participants to pair off and talk to one another about a positive memory of an effective teaching moment they experienced as a student. After five minutes of discussion, ask three groups to report their experiences. Afterwards ask, “Did anyone have an outstanding lecture as an example?”
  2. Alternatively, one might ask about a time either as a teacher or as a student of a teaching fiasco.
  3. Brainstorm: What are the habits and characteristics of excellent teaching or its opposite?

Read Case

  1. A reenactment of the faculty meeting could be videotaped.
  2. The student emails could be converted to “video” emails and presented as a data set prior to reading the case. The video emails correlates with the fact that the students are in a distance education program.
  3. The minutes could be separated from the case and presented as a discrete data set.


  1. Name the characters in the case

Tom Fryer

Kimberly Jackson.

George Tucker

Students who sent emails

Roland Stanford

Students who did not send emails

Jessica Daly


Hassid Ner

  1. Do you identify with one particular character? Let participants name different characters explaining why they identified with them. When a character is named for the first time, solicit details about what is revealed in the case about this person.
  2. If one of the primary characters is not named, explore why this character did not create a sense of identity. Ask, “Do you recognize any former teachers who you might identify with this character?”  Seek to be fair with each characterization. The temptation to vilify one of the characters can be dismissive of legitimate points of view.


  1. What is the real issue of this case? Be prepared to hear more than one answer and be skeptical if only one issue is identified as the one real issue.
    1. The case can be analyzed from various perspectives depending upon the learning objectives of the case presenter.
    • A class focusing on leadership or conflict resolution might explore the dynamics for Roland Stanford as leader or facilitator.
    • A faculty development seminar might concentrate on active learning strategies, pedagogical styles, the art of lecturing, or the nature of learning.
    • A faculty might use the case to analyze the coherence of the institutional purpose and the curriculum, allocation of resources, mission, identity, and values.
    • Other issues might include academic freedom, resources that enhance the teaching task, the relationship of administration to faculty, or teacher evaluations.
  1. Who are the stake holders? Who among the characters has the most power? Who seems to have the least power? Feel free to identify persons not previously named and have not attended this faculty meeting.
  2. What other organizations could overhear this discussion and make appropriate applications? Town council, church board, community organization, etc. How would the issues change or remain the same?

Possible Activities

  1. Set up possible role-play scenarios. Assign small groups to discuss a particular character’s point of view. Possible reenactments might include:
    1. The faculty meeting
    2. Private conversations in the hallway of various characters
    • Hassid, Kimberly, and Tom
    • George and Jessica
    • Etc.
  1. Divide the participants into two groups for a point-counter point discussion. Allow the groups ten minutes to prepare. Groups can begin with a two minute opening to be followed by a one minute response respectively. Depending on the time and synergy of the activity, the volley might continue for several rounds.
  2. Model good lecturing by inserting a fifteen minute mini-lecture that provides valuable content that takes the discussion to another level. For the creative facilitator, this could be done through the voice and persona of Roland Stanford.
  3. Return to the case and ask about possible scenarios that might be feasible for this faculty in the next twelve months. Groups could be asked to lay out an agenda (a roadmap) for the next six faculty meetings (colloquia) that outlines a positive trajectory for the future.

Debrief the activities by asking about new insights, perspectives, or considerations. Ask those who did not take an active speaking role to summarize or highlight any possible conclusions. A “one-minute paper” exercise might facilitate participants to make concrete conclusions.


  1. Focus the group’s attention to the dilemma identified in the case. Seek to identify 2-4 “next step” actions.
  2. Ask key reflection questions about how the participants future attitudes or actions that relate to the teaching objectives.


Brazziel, W. F. (1989). “Older students.” In Arthur Levine, Shaping higher education’s future: Demographic realities and opportunities, 1990-2000 (pp. 116-132). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Devine, T. G. (1986). Teaching study skills: A guide for teachers. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Frederick, P. J. (1986). “The lively lecture—8 variations.” College Teaching 34, 43-50.

Lazear, D. (1991). Seven ways of teaching: The artistry of teaching with multiple intelligences. Palatine, IL: Skylight.

Meyers, C. and Jones, T. B. (1993). Promoting active learning: Strategies for the college classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

The case, To Lecture or Not To Lecture, borrowed and adapted some student quotes and teacher responses from Edwards, H., Smith, B. & Webb, G. (eds.) (2001). Lecturing: Case Studies, Experience and Practice. London: Kogan Page.

The case was presented by the Association for Case Teaching at the annual Society of Biblical Literature gathering in Toronto, 2002, and at the Association for Theological Field Educators in Atlanta, 2009.

“To Lecture, Or Not to Lecture.” Journal for Case Teaching 15-16 (2004-2005): 57-68.

[1]H. Edwards, B. Smith & G. Webb (eds.) (2001). Lecturing: Case Studies, Experience and Practice. London: Kogan Page., p. 35.

[2] Edwards, Smith, and Webb, pg. 6, 22, 31.

[3] Ibid., 16-20.

[i] Sample emails:



Dear Dr. Tucker, I am a new student in Dr. Amy Jason’s Introduction to the Old Testament class. She passed out the standard syllabus used by the other teachers, but I’m afraid she is not following it closely at all. It took a month for us to get out of Genesis alone. At this pace the class will not even get to Psalms. It is not that Ms. Jason is not a good teacher. She is very lively and energetic. No one will go to sleep in her classes. It’s just that we spend so much time doing group work, role-playing, and pair-sharing that we don’t get into the lesson. I’m paying good money to learn from my teachers, not share my ignorance with other students, most of who are younger than my own children are. I can learn more by myself. I don’t want my grade dependent upon anyone else.  I know Ms. Jason is a new teacher, but I think she could use some guidance. Sincerely, Tina Anderson



I’m a student in NT Survey. I thought you might like to know that we spend very little time in the Bible. I wanted to come back to school so I could know my Bible better. We spent one whole class period talking about how some couple should spend their money. If I had wanted a course on common sense, I would have saved a lot of tuition dollars myself.  Now I know why I hear sermons based on the Cheers theme song, students are not learning the Bible anymore.  Thought you ought to know, Jay Jennings, Sr.



Dr. Tucker—writing to let you know how disappointed I am with classes so far at the school. Two of my profs are constantly giving me readings with little direction. I feel I’m being thrown into the water and told to swim or drown. We are writing reflection papers about readings and field trips but receive little feedback as to what the important points are to remember for tests and such. This is not the way I remember school being at all. I have no clue what is expected. And all this busy work is not what ministry is about anyway.  –Marshall Walker-Smith



Dr. Tucker, When I began the systematics class it was very stressful. In all my other subjects I was getting high distinction grades. Here, hard work just wasn’t enough. I had to dig down into myself. Why was I sure this was the correct conclusion? And, I wasn’t allowed to say ‘Isn’t it obvious?’ or ‘The literature says…’ I had to unravel my thinking and come up with a rationale that was justified and articulate. Many times I knew that I knew—but didn’t want to say something that sounded stupid or was wrong. –Abigail



Dr. Tucker, I need to inform you that I will not be able to continue in school. If you remembered, I was afraid that I was too old to get back into the swing of things, and I was right. Having two children in preschool, a husband working the night-shift, and all these classes assigning field observations, immersions, practicums, and such, I’m overwhelmed. If all that was required was class and homework, I think I could handle it. But teachers keep assigning out-of-class projects and group work. I’ll turn in the paper work tomorrow in your office. –Kathy Mullins

[ii] From the Desk of Terri Clifton, Ph.D. “In response to your request about the email. Yes, the reference is to one of my classes. I struggled with teaching students how to understand the complexities of Jesus’ call to discipleship. On the one hand, his call is simple and radical, barring no compromise. On the other hand, discerning just what radical commitment means in different life circumstances can be tricky.  How do I get them to own this tension so that they can better prepare to face it in their own lives? I decided to try the case study, “Rigor and Responsibility” [available in Christian Ethics, Orbis, 1999.]  In this simple case, a professional couple struggle over the question of how to use some additional money they have come into — build a vacation home for renewal and ministry, or give the money to the poor? Which is most true to Jesus’ call? The situation is true to life, the family and church dynamics very real, and the witness of Jesus complex. The students got into the case immediately. Discussion was lively and identification with key characters came easily. It was soon apparent to them that a clear solution would not be easy to find, and that difficult consequences were a part of either choice. As I watched students grapple with the perplexity of the issue, I knew I had a winner. The case turned out to be an invaluable teaching tool, helping them experience the tension from the inside out. At last, they got it.”  –T
[iii] McKeachie, W. J. (1999). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research and theory for college and university teachers, Houghton Mifflin Co, Boston.

[iv] Cavanaugh, J. C. (1993). Adult development and aging. Pacific Grove CA: Brooks/Cole.