[note: this was written on the move, in my phone, so please forgive (and point out!) any mistakes/glaring issues!]
A colleague pointed me in the direction of an article in the Education Guardian, which is guaranteed to get you going, one way or another. The article in question argues that the lecture is dead (long live the MOOC!).
Yet anyone who has taught 200+ students in the space of an hour will tell you that it is difficult to teach that many people effectively. It may not be the ‘best’ way of teaching subjects, but if you want to teach face-to-face (which is certainly the better option in my mind) your options are limited. So, perhaps the more accurate title is ‘in defence of lectures as the most context-appropriate approach, as part of a series of pedagogical interactions’. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. Anyway, the author, Clark, makes a number of points. I will try to address them below.
1) The hour is outdated.
Clark highlights that our teaching times are based on a system that began in 3100 BC. This does not fit into the psychology of learning. Perhaps not – but in that case let’s also reform secondary school lessons. And those hour-long tv documentaries.
This is what we use to divide time. So we work with it. We are free, however, to set up that time as we like.
2) Lectures breed passive students
Perhaps. However, I’ve taught plenty of seminars (even with 4 people) where no-one has talked voluntarily. I wager most teachers can relate to this. The lecture simply gives students safety in numbers. That being said I’ve always allowed interaction in lectures, and someone will always speak up (eventually). Furthermore the majority of lectures I have attended or run have had interactive elements. At least in my experience, the 60 mins of being talked at isn’t quite the case.
3) Attention fall off
People can’t concentrate for an hour. True. Which is why you build in breaks, multimedia, tasks, and perhaps some good old fashioned patrolling to make sure students put their phones away.
4) note taking
Note taking is rarely taught, and this is the main way of synthesising info. This one I agree with. Personally, I like the idea of there being a critical thinking/skills course for new students where such skills could be taught. However note taking is also a personal business, and we all do it differently. For example I used to write down as much as possible verbatim. As I became more experienced, I found my technique. Notes are important, as is note taking. Do you want to be that person in the business meeting who hasn’t/can’t take(en) notes and therefore can’t report back because the handouts weren’t informative enough?
Some people have difficulties, which make lectures hard. I agree completely, which is why we should give these people as much support as they need, and provide suitable alternatives if possible/necessary. This doesn’t mean we should ditch the lecture, however.
6) ‘one bite at the cherry’
This argument suggests that if you don’t get it first time round you’re done for. This is probably the one that annoyed me the most. This is the precise reason seminars are used alongside lectures – to discuss material. Not forgetting all the reading you’re supposed to do either side of your classes. And of course there is email support, office hours and surgeries.
7) Cognitive overload
There is a lot – sometimes too much – information to process from a lecture. I do have sympathy with this one. But this can be addressed through q&as, reading, seminars, and developing note-taking/synthesis skills. And no-one is expected to come out of a lecture with perfect recall and a complete understanding. Enter seminars, office hours, emails, reading – again.
8) Tyranny of location
Students have to go to campus. Well, yes. But there are plenty of benefits to this too. Feeling part of a community, getting new experiences, meeting people… Also, does anyone apply to a university they can’t get to? Of course, we should remember that some people’s personal and financial situations may restrict these choices.
9) Tyranny of time
Students have to turn up at a specific time. Yep. But I have a sneaking suspicion they may be faced with such trials and tribulations in the world of work, too. I’m also guessing the majority of students have been trained to turn up on time by things like school…
Some lecturers aren’t very charismatic or interesting. This can be a problem. But not everyone in our lives will have the qualities of a prime-time chat show host.
So, there are the problems. And what is Clerk’s alternative? Recorded lectures. He argues this is an effective alternative. But to me the argument seems to be ‘lecture my way, not yours’. He conveniently forgets all the other events that work alongside a lecture that enhance some things and help to reduce the negative impact of others.
And the final thing? Clark is trying to flog us Massively Open Online Courses. I see there is no discussion of the drawbacks of those, pedagogical or not. Interesting, that!