Can the Lecture and Crash the Boards: Moving to the Group Exercise Format

It really is one of my best lectures: “The Rise and Fall of Soviet Communism.” I have given the lecture in both my AP European History and my AP World History courses. The lecture is fortified by the six years I spent in Germany as an Army officer. During my last assignment there in the late 1980s, I lived in Bonn, the then capital, saw the Berlin Wall fall, and witnessed the wave of political revolutions sweep through Europe, ultimately dooming Soviet Communism. Also, in conducting my research for my dissertation on the unification of the East and West German armies, I interviewed former East German Communist officers and sergeants.

 I would begin my lecture in 1848 with the publication of the Communist Manifesto, move to World War I and the Russian Revolution, then on to Lenin, Stalin, World War II, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Prague Spring, détente, Gorbachev, crisis, and finish with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. I would end analytically with the four factors that best account for the ultimate unraveling of the Soviet Union. This was a solid lecture, accompanied by a chronology and outline.

 So it was with some trepidation and hesitation that ten minutes before class this spring I decided to change teaching formats. Instead of the lecture I chose to send them to the blackboards and have the students in small groups develop the chronology themselves. I continued to pepper them with questions, leading them to the key events and personalities.

 Despite all the high technology available to enhance and diversify our teaching formats, I believe the traditional lecture still has its place. Though the feedback I received from my lecture format for this class was good, I was even more satisfied with the group-exercise format I had decided on for this lesson. This satisfaction rests on the presumption that students learn more (1) by doing and (2) by teaching each other. I would like to ask any readers with knowledge of research supporting this presumption to please inform me. Many thanks.

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