Are lectures the best way to teach students?
‘It is sad that so few modern students will ever experience a real lecture’
These atrocities are what people currently call lectures, and they are indefensible.
But the alternatives to lectures are mere gimmicks and novelties designed to get praise and awards for teaching “innovation”. (A bicycle with triangular wheels is an innovation – the proper question is whether it is fit for purpose.)
Good lectures are possible and achievable – I experienced many of them at my medical school. But they are not easy, nor are they as cheap as some alternatives. Good lectures require all-round effort from people who appoint teaching staff and design lecture theatres; from those who construct courses and those who create the educational ethos.
And (hardest of all) good lectures require here-and-now concentration during the actual teaching period – effort from both lecturer and audience alike. A good lecture is hard work because it’s a one-off performance. Like the theatre rather than the cinema, everybody present contributes to the success or failure, everybody is involved. But when it works, it’s an experience that may be remembered forever.
Real lecturing is irreplaceable in the same way that live theatre or musical performance is irreplaceable – seeing and hearing each other in real-time and working together on something they both value.
It is sad that so few modern students will ever experience anything of this kind.
‘There are a myriad of reasons – lapses in concentration or early starts, for example – why students don’t get as much out of lectures’
There may, of course, be a limit to how many videos students can watch in a week. In some cases the time-honoured lecture format is working very nicely. But it seems clear to us that there are lots ways to teach, and some of the best don’t involve lectures.