Sunday, May 05, 2013

end of lectures?

There’s an interesting discussion in an article in the Guardian about the possible demise of traditional lectures at universities; it’s inspired by a speech by Jimmy Wales reported in more detail here (Jimmy Wales: Boring university lectures ‘are doomed’). Any academic must be tempted to have an opinion on this topic. One thing that I haven’t seen come up in this discussion is the freedom the lecturer gets in an unrecorded lecture to take liberties with the subject-matter; for example to be a bit imprecise when discussing a mathematical topic, in a way that helps the audience’s intuition, but involves saying something that is not strictly correct. With a textbook, or recorded lecture, there is pressure to play it safe and avoid the possibly helpful imprecision.

Lectures are often criticised for not being very interactive (although, these days, any reasonable lecturer attempts to be interactive). When a lecture fails to be interactive, it is noted that you might as well watch a video of the lecture (or better yet, some version of it delivered by a great lecturer). What the video loses, however, is the unrealised possibility of interaction: the possibility that an awkward question may be asked makes it different from a setting where there is no possibility that an awkward question may be asked. At least that may be why I’ve found recorded lectures to be less interesting than the live version, other things being equal.

Finally, the prophets of lecture-doom need to explain why theatres have not been completely wiped out by movies, and indeed why lectures themselves have not already been replaced by recorded ones (after all, the technology has been around for a while).


AfterMath said...

"The end" is a strong statement, but just as things like Blackboard helped change how professors kept track of grades, professors should acknowledge that there are additional resources available than the standard lecture. You mention the interaction that becomes available with a lecture, but that can possibly be handled by a comment section on a video (and this is no longer limited by time constraints as most lectures are).

But taking advantage of things like online resources in a lecture, or non-static sets of examples could be really helpful for students.

Another point is that if you think students have a problem paying attention in a lecture today, imagine how difficult it will be with a lecture on one screen and "The Day After Tomorrow" on the TV. I doubt they get the grasp of the entire lecture in that instance.

Paul Goldberg said...

Yes, lectures can be improved with technology - I sometimes ask the audience which of 2 or more answers they think is correct, and not everyone "votes" partly due to being too shy to guess in public - it would be nice to be able to solicit anonymous responses.

Anonymous said...

The students were very positive about my lectures this year; they seem to feel that they got something from them.

As to interaction, if a few are brave enough to interact (ask or answer questions), the rest will join in. I saw it in the lectures; and in the exam scripts I've just finished marking there were echoes of the same thing.