I have written and argued with colleagues about the value of a lecture for many years. However, one of my colleagues came and sat down with me the other day, and we had a great discussion about lecturing.
She managed to pin me down on exactly where I stand, and so I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.
I’m not against giving or listening to a great talk. I have done both. I’ve received awards for my speaking ability, and I’ve been inspired by talks I’ve heard over the years. In my class feedback, I am repeatedly asked to give more lectures (I deliver a few) because I am a great lecturer (I won’t).
What I’m against is lecturing. By lecturing, I mean what is traditionally done in university classes the world over. The lecturer prepares material from some source, condenses it, organises it, prepares bullet point slides highlighting all the important points, and then stands up and talks about the points. Sometimes, lecturers will take great pleasure in saying that they won’t use powerpoint, so that makes the experience better. The lecturer then repeats this process for the requisite number of hours across a semester for what we call a module or a class. There are variations on the theme, but it is essentially a let me tell you what you need to know approach with the teacher doing all the work, and the students passively having knowledge poured out upon their heads from on high. One of the variations included the use of clickers in order to make the experience truly two way, with the students actively engaged and taking control of the learning process (should have been in marketing – could have made a lot more money). All of this is lecturing – the kind of lecturing that I think is poor as a teaching tool.
However, I have been to lectures that really make you think. Lectures that present the world in a way that causes cognitive dissonance or presents a viewpoint that I have never considered before. A good keynote does that, and they are occasional events. Presenting this kind of a talk (lecture) week after week to the same group of people, and expecting them to go away inspired and scratching their heads in thought every time they listen to you is unrealistic. To pull one off occasionally is practical, but to fill three hours a week for 12 – 15 weeks, it just doesn’t happen.
In other words, I am not opposed to occasional lectures to students that are inspiring and powerful, conveying a message that makes the students think. I am opposed to lectures that simply go over material that a student is expected to learn. There are better ways to foster information exchange, we just don’t use them. We use lectures because they are easy.