Recently, a colleague published a popular piece on the death of the lecture. The response was predictable: staff lamenting the loss.

Some reasons were good, and some were bad, and others ugly.

Here, I reflect on indicative reasons from each category.

A disclaimer: These are my own opinions and not the official position of the University of Tasmania, which has made no long-term decision about the fate of lectures.

the good:  whether a reason for lamenting the loss of lectures is good or not depends on what you mean by “lecture.” By lecture I mean traditional, didactic delivery typically to large groups of students. But that is not what everyone means and some of the things that fall into the lecture category are worth keeping.

active or social learning: many people wanting to keep their lectures describe what I would think of as a workshop or lectorial – introductory comments and the presentation of catalyst material by the lecturer followed by active learning by students, very often in groups. Such activities are not only worth keeping, but worth expanding.

modelling or demonstrating: In formal domains—mathematics, logic, etc—“lectures” usually involve completing proofs while engaging in meta-commentary about why things are done a certain way. These are a specific form of modelling or demonstrating that are very effective with small cohorts, and can scale well to larger classes.

the badI liked lectures: Your typical academic was, in all probability, an extremely committed student. So, the fact that we liked, or even loved, lectures does not tell us much about how most people experience them. I believe something like survivorship bias is at work here.

the ugly: I am literally called a “lecturer”: Although an ugly reason (i.e. a particularly bad reason) for keeping lectures, this points to something rather deep—professional identity—that partially explains the resistance to eliminating lectures.

In sum, good reasons for keeping lectures tend to be focussed on students—how we can or should interact with our students in real-time face-to-face sessions—while bad and ugly reasons tend to focus on academics—either what we liked about lectures as students or how we see ourselves.

If the lecture could talk perhaps it would say: “I’m not dead! I’m just different! I’ve had a makeover and now I feel much more confident in making friends and building (learning) relationships!”.

Professor Mitch Parsell, Academic Executive Director, University of Tasmania [email protected]  @mitchparsell

An expanded version of this piece is available here.




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