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USING TIME | 2005-06-18

During my professor days, I often had to teach basic economics at 8 AM on Monday morning. It was a small nightmare.

First of all, basic economics is very, very boring. Secondly, a lot of students had to take it. Thirdly on Monday morning about everybody in the class, including me, was trying to recover from the weekend.

Spending fifty minutes talking about a notoriously boring subject when you and everybody else in the room feels like hell is a very, very unpleasant thing to have to do.

So I hit on a formula. I told the class that, if they listened to every word I said, my lecture would be over in half the time, twenty-five minutes. After twenty-five minutes, I kept the students who weren't listening in for the whole fifty minutes. I just sat there and felt bad and let the rest go.

Soon I didn't have to keep anybody.

And I found on tests that the class remembered what I said during that twenty-five minutes better than they remembered the material in any other class.

I could say it all twice in twenty-five minutes if everybody was listening.

No one was interested in this.

The job of a professor is to give fifty-minute lectures and sign a piece of paper that says a student took a course. It makes no difference whether the student learns anything. To get promoted a professor has to devote his life to pleasing other professors.

Other professors give him his degree.

Other professors decide whether he gets published.

Other professors vote on giving him tenure.

Other professors decide whether he gets promoted.

One published article is more important to a professor than a thousand students who learn the subject from him.

But the fact remains that twenty-five minutes well used is better than fifty minutes of routine lecture.