Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Lecturing" vs. Teaching

"The Lectures Are Recorded, So Why Go to Class? ( More colleges are taping lectures so students can watch online, but not all professors are sure the results are good for their classrooms." This is the head of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, online edition 16 May 08. The main text of the article is not online, but there's a stub that confirms the headline: many universities making lecture recordings available to students, and as a result students are not bothering to come to class.

The very fact that this problem can arise highlights the malaise we see in some universities and colleges today. The teachers don't teach, they lecture. If they TAUGHT their classes, that is, if they interacted with the students, if they discussed topics WITH students rather than lecture AT students, then this problem would never arise. Whenever a classroom becomes the equivalent of a book, with the students partaking of the author's expertise but never able to question or ask for clarification, why would students come to the classroom if they hae an alternative? Moreover, this leads to an environment of regurgitation of material, rather than of thinking, of education. Education is about understanding; understanding is enhanced when the teacher and the students work together to understand. Lectures are more appropriate for training, not education (see

In the past people came to the classroom because the material wasn't otherwise available. (It has to be said, even then if the teacher had written the textbook, and then lectured the same material as the book, students wouldn't bother to come to class.) Now that it's available elsewhere, why would they inconveniently come to listen to a "lecture"?

If someone asks if I'm going to "lecture" about something, I say, "I don't lecture to students, I talk with them". I am a teacher, not a lecturer. Teaching is more akin to coaching a sports team than to writing a book; lecturing is much more like writing a book.

One objection that might be raised to my point of view is, "the classes are so large, no one could actually TEACH them." That's not true; I've read of "lecturers" who went out into the audience, who conveyed information via questions and answers. No, they can't learn all the students' names, they can't get to know the students so that they can coach them, but they can make the learning interactive.

But more important, there shouldn't BE huge classes, as huge classes are necessarily poor education. I had a class of "only" 48 recently, and I managed to make it interactive, but it was very difficult; when the students really got into a topic, discussions were going on all over the room and chaos reigned.

Apply this to a hands-on topic like game development, and the objections to this lecture-style "teaching" are even stronger. Most game development students are of the millennial generation, and millennials thrive in group settings, in sharing, and in interaction. Add to this that the students are game players, very much used to interaction, not passive absorption of material. Finally, millennials hope that their authority figures will be their friends, or at least friendly--like their parents--which the university "lecturer" cannot be because he or she cannot get to know the student.

Yes, I learned the name of every person in that class of 48. And in my smaller (24) classes, I spent at least 10 minutes individually with each person, at one point, to get to know more about them. I'd like to have spent more time but my "office" was a tiny cubicle amongst many more, not conducive to private discussions with students!

Go back to the medieval roots of the university system, and you won't find huge classes, you'll find teachers with small groups. Fundamentally, huge classes are a symptom of the ultimate disease in education, "money". If someone can cope with (I won't say teach) 48 people instead of 24, the school spends half as much on pay for faculty. If a "lecturer" can talk at 200 people, and let poorly-paid grad students take care of the labs, the school saves lots of money.

This is why a good community college--they aren't all good, and that includes the one where I was given 48 students--is likely to provide a much better education than a large university, for the first two years. (Perhaps this is confirmed by the research showing that students who transfer from community colleges in my state to colleges do better there than the students who start their education at those colleges.) Community colleges hire teachers, not lecturers, and classes are usually small, not large.

I have much more to say about this, but I'll stop for now.

No comments:

"Always do right--this will gratify some and astonish the rest."Mark Twain
"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exup'ery

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." Albert Einstein

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Albert Einstein

"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." -- Aristotle