Why do lectures persist?
Posted July 30, 2012on:
Mention the phrase “Twittering during lectures” ten years ago and people might imagine excited chatter because (or at the expense) of the lecturer. The audience could also have been quietly laughing for the same reasons.
Actually you could go just five years back when Twitter was just a fledgling and twittering would still not have had the meaning it has now.
According to Edudemic, there are 10 New Ways Twitter Is Changing The College Lecture. As usual, I greeted this “news” with yeas and nays.
Encouraging the use of Twitter during lectures, talks, or seminars does not disguise the fact that they are still just that. The backchannel may exist, but the speaker must first allow it and then actually leverage on it to understand, interact with, and better engage the audience.
But fundamentally, the speaker is still lecturing. I think that very few people are gifted lecturers. That is why lectures are boring.
Lectures are also outdated and outmoded. When information was scarce and lecturing was the only way for experts to pass information on, lectures made sense. I quote from a recent article in Prospect, Professors Without Borders:
As Thrun observed in his Digital Life Design talk, the world’s first university appeared in Bologna in 1088. “At the time, 350 years before Gutenberg, the lecture was the most effective way to convey information.” Then came the printing press, industrialisation, celluloid, the web. “And miraculously, professors today teach exactly the same way they taught a thousand years ago! The university has been, surprisingly, the least innovative of all places in society.”
These days we talk about having information at our fingertips. The challenge is not to find the information but to make sense of it.
So why do lectures persist? I can think of a few arguments and also counter those points.
It is the traditional way to teach. The experts were taught that way and it does not seem broken, so they teach the way they were taught. But that is only if you ignore disruptive technologies and expectations like Twitter backchannelling.
It is evidence of teaching. I recently shared a quote on lectures. But lecturing does not guarantee any more learning than talking ensures listening.
It is more efficient to lecture when you are a researcher. Some lecturers are researchers and they would rather focus on their research than teach. Lecturing, no matter how badly, can be neatly packaged. The process of learning and interacting with learners is messy. But being efficient is not necessarily being effective.
It gets everyone in the same place. And that is somehow comforting. But we can now attend conferences, unconferences, seminars, and the like over the Web. If you miss a talk, you can watch it later and interact with other participants via a discussion forum or shared Twitter hashtags.
It makes money. It does for now whether in the context of business talks or lectures linked to university courses. But again, technologies that allow direct access to experts, crowdsourcing, content creation, and online discussion are disrupting this process. The money will be in consultations and value-adding to what people already know or can find out on their own.
More thoughts on lectures tomorrow…