What Are Lecture Tutorials?

Initial Publication Date: February 17, 2009

Lecture Tutorials Help Create Interactive Classes

Research shows that students learn more when they are actively engaged while learning. Lecture Tutorials are worksheets of carefully-designed questions that require students to think about challenging subjects. They are designed to be used after a brief lecture on the topic. Students work in pairs or groups of three to complete the Lecture Tutorial worksheets. This group work requires them to "talk science" and encourages them to teach each other. Lecture Tutorials are most effective when used frequently in the classroom, so students get used to the idea that they need to participate during lecture.

Lecture Tutorials have been written for Introductory Geoscience (focusing on physical geology but including topics in historical geology, oceanography, natural disasters, and planetary geology). They have also been written for Introductory Astronomy and Physics. This website contains some example geoscience Lecture Tutorials, and the reference section gives information about published Lecture Tutorials. You can also write your own Lecture Tutorials if you wish.

Lecture Tutorials Address Misconceptions and Difficult Topics

Lecture Tutorials are specifically designed to address misconceptions (alternative conceptions) and other topics that students have difficulties learning. The Lecture Tutorials create an environment where students must confront their alternative conceptions, and through well-designed questioning, the Lecture Tutorials guide students to a more scientific way of thinking. This careful design makes Lecture Tutorials unique among most other activities used in the classroom. Misconceptions were identified through literature searches of published misconceptions and through the classroom experience of the authors.

Lecture Tutorials Incorporate Cutting-Edge Pedagogy

Lecture Tutorials are written so they scaffold student learning. The first basic, though conceptually challenging, questions are designed to introduce the students to the topic and help them think about what they do and do not know. The Lecture Tutorial then guides the students by asking questions focusing on underdeveloped or misunderstood concepts and slowly steps them through thinking about more difficult questions, helping the students construct a new understanding. The final questions on the Lecture Tutorial tend to be higher level questions, both scientifically and cognitively, that indicate whether or not the students understand the material.

One unique method within Lecture Tutorials is the Student 1 vs. Student 2 debate strategy. In this set of questions, one hypothetical student expresses a commonly held alternative conception. Students completing the Lecture Tutorial must determine with which hypothetical student they agree. To do so, they must think about their misconceptions and logically reason through the question asked.

Lecture Tutorials avoid terminology when possible. Research indicates that the use of terminology likely does not aid students in learning concepts. Since Lecture Tutorials are written to increase students' conceptual knowledge (but not their vocabulary), they try to avoid scientific jargon if possible.

Lecture Tutorials do not need to stand alone in the classroom and can be used with other interactive lecture techniques that help students learn. An example of another technique that works very well with Lecture Tutorials are Conceptests, which are well-written multiple choice questions that students answer and discuss in class.

What Are Requirements for Use in the Classroom?

Lecture Tutorials can be, and have been, used in any size classroom. Because students talk with each other and teach each other, the instructor is there as a facilitator. The questions on the Lecture Tutorials are written so the conceptual steps for each question are manageable, and there are built-in self checks, so students know if they are off track.

Also, Lecture Tutorials do not have any technology requirements. Lecture Tutorials are self-contained, and there are no experiments to set up or rocks to distribute. (The physics Lecture Tutorials are an exception to this.)