Quora: What Makes A Professor’s Lecture Boring?

I write lots of Quora answers. Sometimes, when I particularly enjoy on a question/answer combo, I’ll share it here, too. If you like it, be sure to check out my other Quora answers. Upvotes welcome!


Quora Question: What makes a professor’s lecture boring?

That’s an easy question to answer: Lack of saber toothed tigers.

While you probably don’t think the two are related, the brain’s ability to focus is — like everything else about us — evolutionarily programmed. Since humans didn’t make it this far by honing our ability to sit comfortably in air-conditioned lecture halls while being talked at for an hour by some expert in a tweed sports coat, we shouldn’t be surprised that staying focused in that scenario is basically impossible.

Instead, our fight-or-flight response is highly tuned to continuously check for external stimuli that could suggest the approach of potential dangers. In other words, we’re constantly checking for big cats with razor-sharp teeth that want to eat us.

When sitting in a lecture, your biology makes it impossible for you to pay attention to the professor for more than eight-ish minutes. After that, your hunter-gatherer brain decides he or she isn’t a risk to eat you or otherwise cause you harm. Once that’s determined, your brain starts scanning the room for other potential threats, so it gets easily distracted by, for example, the cough of a 300 lb. deffensive lineman sitting two rows behind you. Be careful: he actually might eat you.

The best teachers understand the biological limitations of human concentration, and they structure their lessons accordingly. Specifically, they know to regularly introduce new stimuli in order to maintain student focus.

For example, including humor in lectures helps keep students engaged. That’s probably why your favorite professors are often the ones that tell jokes or include witty comic strips at regular intervals throughout their powerpoint slides.

Alternately, some professors inject an occasional profanity. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this tactic because I think it’s lazy, but I’ll admit that dropping an f-bomb in the middle of class is an effective way of getting distracted students to pay attention.

As for me, I like to ask questions and then call on random students for answers. Nothing scares students more than being randomly called on by their teachers. Not even saber-toothed tigers.

Share

I teach in Duke University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship program and founded RocketBolt. I write about startups, pedagogy, entrepreneurship, engineering, and poetry. They’re all related, I promise.

One Comment

  1. Pingback:The Hollywood Rule: 5 Reasons You Should Always Accept A Drink During A Meeting - Aaron Dinin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Instagram

  • My @dukeinnovation capstone students at @adwerxre learning about #sales, #bizdev, and #closing from one of the best: @cleithe #entrepreneur #hustle #innovation #fieldtrip
  • Kirsten Hamstra, global head of social media @sassoftware, talking about corporate #socialmarketing strategies with my @dukeinnovation class: "A lot of brands think social only belongs in the marketing department, but the companies that are really benefiting from social are the ones that understand how it can help across an organization -- #HR, #recruiting, #R&D, #sales... everything."
  • A mini-reunion of the dorm formerly-known-as-Aycock, 2001. Who wins the award for least-receded hairline? #bluedevils #tildeathdouspartin
  • A little @dukeuniversity alumni love from @natedevil and @raleighsparty's wedding. #truelove #tildeathdouspartin #mawwage
  • Pretty much how I feel after a 7 meeting day. #entrepreneurship #hustling #sales #closing #wheatenterrier #furbaby #exhausted
  • Suggested caption: "I took Dr. Dinin's #learningtofail class and all I got was this stupid power strip." Watch My Story to see what other worthless things my students bartered for during today's failure challenge #entrepreneurship #tradingup #paperclips  #powerstrips
  • Teaching my little girl to #dreambig 🐻😆
  • For some reason, a discussion about the risks of using #socialmedia for professional development while hanging out with @fhi_duke's PhD Lab students seemed like a delightfully ironic time to snap a #selfie. #socialmediamarketing #immature
  • In today's #learningtofail class, we answered the age old question: What happens when 24 @dukeuniversity students go Trick-Or-Treating around campus for one hour on the day before #halloween? See My Story for the answer. Spoiler alert: it ends with almost 5,000 pieces of #candy 🍭 #entrepreneur #trickortreat #sugarhigh
  • When life gives you lemons, throw them away, go buy a 48oz tomahawk ribeye, and grill it up! #steak #sousvide #cholesterol #moo
  • #pumpkincarving with the @dukeinnovation education team. #entrepreneur #teambuilding #halloween #sharpthings
  • Hosted my first dorm dinner tonight. Ate some #chicken and talked #entrepreneurship with the kids from Brownstone. Tried to convince them to stop worrying about which major is going to get them a job and start taking classes they enjoy. After all, as the kids like to say... #yolo 🤣

Follow Me!