Jan 22 2015

Building credibility in lectures

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Neil McLeanLSE’s Head of Academic Development Dr Neil McLean describes how observations of lecture recordings can be useful in developing credibility – and consequently student engagement – in your lectures

Lectures are recorded principally to offer students the opportunity for review. However, recordings also allow lecturers to observe their own lecturing. This is perhaps not the most comfortable process. We sound and look different on film compared to our experience of ‘being us’. However, watching our own performance in public speaking is a valuable form of feedback and can be used as a developmental tool. This post suggests a way of using lecture recordings to think through ‘credibility’ – a crucial tool in encouraging students to listen, and therefore of building engagement and interest among them.

In classical rhetoric, the credibility of the speaker and her or his message is a key cue to listening. I will define credibility in this context as how you establish that you are, firstly, expert in the area of research or practice. A second feature of credibility as a course lecturer is that you know what your students need to know, both substantively and in terms of their progress on the course. The argument here is that if your audience believes that these things hold for you, they will have clear reason to listen to you.

As an analytical frame for how a speaker establishes credibility, sections 2.5–2.7 of  Aristotle’s The Art of Rhetoric are useful. Here, Aristotle divides ethos (credibility) into three related and mutually reinforcing elements: phronesis (practical wisdom), arete (status and success) and eunoia (goodwill towards the audience). The prompt questions below offer you a basis for observing how you negotiate these cues in the context of a course lecture.

Audiences tend to make quick decisions about the credibility of speakers so, for this exercise, watch the opening section of a lecture and think whether your communicative behaviours make claims to having these three attributes. The prompt questions to guide you are not an exhaustive list of what a lecturer could do, but relate to how these claims are conventionally made in this interactive context. You’ll also notice that there is overlap between the questions. This reflects the interaction between the three elements of ethos.


In your lecture opening, do you:

  • speak to the course ‘big picture’ through reference to themes/by drawing together substantive content from different weeks?
  • speak to how students should be progressing, highlighting what they should do with the substantive content of the lecture and advising them on how they should be developing their perspective on/using this content?
  • provide an overview of the substantive content that offers a plan or framework for how you think students can successfully learn/understand this area of theory or practice?


Rather than loudly making direct claims to your own genius, what Aristotle suggested was that an orator shows her or his success through how they speak. So, in your lecture opening, do you:

  • look confident (this impression will be generated through a combination of behaviours such as physical relaxation, calm speed of speech, eye contact with the audience, positioning of self on the stage/in the room, and cues that make it ‘look like you want to be there’)?
  • speak as a disciplinary insider/speak to practitioner experience?
  • show that you know what your students need to know, both as disciplinary scholars and to be successful on your course?


In your lecture opening, do you:

  • adopt behaviours that make you ‘look like you want to be there’?
  • speak to the relevance of the lecture input to students’ progress on the course?
  • place the lecture input in the wider context of how students should prepare for the class?
  • combine speaking directly to your students (‘you’ messages) with a sense of shared endeavour in progressing on the course (‘we’ messages)?
  • show you have a plan for the lecture and that this plan contributes to how students should study successfully on the course?

LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre is running a workshop on lecturing and class teaching skills on Wednesday 18 February, 14:00-17:00. Find out more and book at Developing your lecturing and class teaching skills.


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Jan 19 2015

Resource of the week

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This week’s resource explores how credibility can be established with an audience during a lecture. Dialogue, Monologue and Soliloquy in the Large Lecture Class (PDF), an article by James Davis from the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, contrasts the features of these different forms of communication and considers their effectiveness in the context of lecture delivery. The author’s point – something lecturers can see for themselves when they use lecture capture to review their own lecturing – is that although there is usually only one speaker during a lecture there are quite different ways in which that speaker can relate to and involve their audience.

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Jan 15 2015

Learning through posters

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To tie in with the call for submissions to LSE’s Research Festival Exhibition we asked staff and students in two departments at the School to tell us about the teaching and learning reflected in recent poster competitions they have held.

The Department of Management’s PhD poster competition took place in the context of its 2014 HR conference, Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t: visible and invisible diversity at work. An event attended by over 100 people – practitioners as well as academic staff and students – it had, as Dr Connson Locke who chaired the organising committee says, “the dual purpose of bringing together people to talk about HR and to showcase, through things like the PhD poster competition, the research we are doing”.

Jonathan Ashong Lamptey at Management's 2014 HR conferenceTo engage the conference attendees with the research as fully as possible, they were asked to vote on the best poster – a process that in itself, according to the winner Jonathan Ashong Lamptey, “meant that the ‘so what?’ question researchers often avoid had to be tackled directly and with clarity. I was surprised at how much the exercise revealed gaps in my knowledge. This was more encouraging than it sounds because it essentially functioned as a revision tool. I have now introduced ‘drafting a poster’ as part of my research process: in my mind, if I can’t present my thoughts succinctly then perhaps I need to reconsider what I am doing.”

Jonathan Ashong Lamptey research poster          Ceren Erdem research poster          Karin King research poster

Posters by (left to right) Jonathan Ashong Lamptey, Ceren Erdem and Karin King. Full size versions can be seen by clicking on the images.

His fellow entrants in the competition had similar learning experiences. Ceren Erdem says: “It helped me to think simply about my research as the poster had to be detailed enough and yet easily understandable for observers who didn’t have much time.” And Karin King reflected on her experience of producing a poster to come up with two pieces of advice: “First, know your audience – think about their purposes for and interests in understanding your findings – and second, a picture really is worth a thousand words: a poster requires the researcher to find ways to tell the research story simply and elegantly through images, while maintaining enough detail to do the research justice.”

Over in the Department of Statistics, there is a rolling exhibition of posters by MPhil and PhD students, all of whom are encouraged to produce at least one poster during the period of their research. “There is no compulsion to produce a poster,” says Ian Marshall, the department’s Research Administrator, “but we find that an annual competition with a prize is a good incentive! And, though we don’t provide any formal guidance in design or layout, the students seem to be inspired enough by the exhibition to think about the core ‘narrative’ in their own research story and how best to convey that in graphic form.”

tayfun terzi research posterOne of the students who participated in last year’s competition, Tayfun Terzi, whose poster appears left (click to view full size version), agrees: “A PhD thesis often feels like a mountain of more or less connected ideas, and producing this poster really helped me to disentangle and clearly articulate some of those.” As can be seen, Tayfun’s poster made use of visual elements such as cartoons and illustrations to convey complex ideas, as well as a fold-out section that, as Tayfun says, “afforded another level of interactivity to spark people’s interest in my work.”

Find out more … at the Department of Management’s HR Conference 2014 page and the Department of Statistics’ PhD Presentation Events and Research Posters page.

LSE Research Festival is welcoming submissions to its exhibition – of posters, films and photographs – until 28 February 2015.

With many thanks to all those who contributed to this post.








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Jan 12 2015

Resource of the week

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A very happy new year to all our readers and welcome back to the blog.

As a gentle lead-in to the teaching term we’re not posting a resource as such today but the Guardian Higher Education Network’s top 10 most read pieces of 2014. With subjects ranging from teaching religion, mental health and whether women in academia are judged by their appearance, we hope there’ll be something of interest among them.


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