Teacher Centred Pontification

I had a chat with a friend of mine who loves to lecture – and does a great job of it. We were discussing the merits of a lecture, and I found myself wondering what is the biggest single problem with lecturing as a form of teaching.

It is the perspective.

When I (or anyone else) stands up and lectures, they are presenting information from their own perspective. The examples are from their own perspective. The interpretation is from their own perspective. The thinking is from their own perspective.

Is this, necessarily, a bad thing. I don’t think so, if you are talking about the auditory transference of information. When I go to a keynote (a form of lecture), I expect to get a point of view. It is presented to make me think about something in (usually) a different way.

If I go to a talk at a conference (usually about 20 minutes), I am learning something new that a researcher has done, and can ask questions to gain understanding.

This is not the case with university lecturing. Everything about a university lecture is teacher centred. The perspective, the experiences, the understanding. A university lecture is rarely a one-off event (like a keynote), but is a series of talks to transmit information. The students are passive participants in the process. They look forward and take notes on what is said. And they do this over and over again.

The roots of lectures lie in the days before printing when you had to listen to an (or the) expert, and write down everything they said – because that was the only way to find out. Until recently (in the last 150 years or so), lectures were not given to hundreds at a time, and the atmosphere made it more like a seminar.

The model for lectures is based on religious sermons. Gather together and listen to the authoritative, infallible word. We still (in the UK) cling to the notion that academic judgment is final. When we are lecturing, we are ministers of the word, and what we say is unassailable by the congregation.

What a pathetic way to learn. Especially when there are alternatives.

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