More one-two punches to the breadbasket for the poor old college lecture. Most recently, Jeff Young at the Chronicle has collected (and is still collecting) opinions from both faculty and students about whether the lecture is worthwhile. Among the typical views that carry little weight are “it worked for me why should I change a tried and true method” and the “lectures are boring.” So, I tried to drill down through that sort of muck to any valid complaints and found a few.
From the professors: Students have not developed a “deep attention” to content in any form, but allow themselves to be distracted and have false expectations about learning complex knowledge. I’ve written about that before after attending the EDUCAUSE conference last fall (see the posts from 12/22/11 and 1/11/12). If such cultivation of attention is needed, then we have to figure out how to do that, how to address it in the classroom.
From the students: Faculty read the text on their PowerPoint slides and are boring. In addition, lectures are boring, and lectures are boring. Okay, the first point–try as I may, I cannot persuade faculty to venture far from the PowerPoint and I feel the pain of being slowly anaesthetized by one. What can you do as a student to get something from such a lecture? Maybe you do have to settle for picking up one good point and developing your ideas about it as the rest of the presentation drones on.
About the boring issue (yawn), I think the professors were acknowledging that, too, but asserting that it is par for the course. In both cases, why accept boring when there is engaging to be had? Of course, I would prefer hands-on work in the classroom and lively discussion, but isn’t there still room for the lecture? There are some places where we do endure the lecture willingly, and that is in video. Think of the TED Talks 18 minute videos or the Khan Academy or any instructional video on YouTube. How does that video format make the lecture more palatable? Is it just the power to stop and start, to replay, to be at home and comfortable? Maybe all of those things. Maybe we are just at the point where we want face-to-face interaction to be something more than the sound of one person talking (or reading slides).
On the other hand, maybe all the complaining about the antiquated lecture is for naught, as this New Republic article suggests: “The Higher Education Monopoly is Crumbling As We Speak.” If students find that they can get their credentials elsewhere, then it won’t really matter if your lectures are boring because the classroom will be empty.