It is sad that so few modern students will ever experience a real lecture; the ones we attended, where the lectures stretched up to long durations, to say the least, and the professor used conventional chalk and boards to teach. For those, who wish to learn and understand the concepts in detail, real lectures will always be interesting and drive their passion to learn. But what are called ‘lectures’ these days is a charade. Gigantic, suffocating venues that can seat hundreds; students struggling to spot the teachers, while sitting in the dark; a ghostly voice vibrating in the microphone; a teacher reading out never-ending power point slides, which, paradoxically, have already been posted online; the flimsy listeners flaccid instead of scribbling their notes; distracted by their neighbour erratically browsing through social networks or last night’s game updates; and the whole thing being recorded as if either it was a court room trial or to emphasise that students don’t really need to be there nor their attention is warranted. Ironically, these indefensible atrocities are what many currently call lectures.
Although the gadgets and tools look fascinating to the onlooker, however, these substitutes to lectures are mere gimmicks designed to get praise for teaching ‘innovation’ and wooing the audience. For instance, a bi-cycle with trilateral wheels is an invention, though, the proper question is whether it fits the purpose. If taken seriously, and conducted in a proper way, lectures are the best practical way of imparting knowledge to people who want to learn. In contrast to what many believe, good lectures are actually possible and attainable – I experienced many of them at my school, however, they are neither easy, nor as cheap as some substitutes. A good lecture requires a holistic team work, starting from those who appoint teaching staff, to those who design lecture theatres, to those who construct courses, and ultimately the creators of the educational ethos. The hardest of all, however, is the fact that good lectures require a great effort in form of concentration during the teaching period from those seeking information (read as students). Furthermore, a good lecture is an effort from both lecturer and audience alike. A good lecture is more like a theatre than a cinema, as it seeks involvement of the audience to make it a success or a failure. It is unique, similar to what a musical performance is – seeing and hearing each other in real-time and working together on something both the performer and viewer value. And when it works, it is an experience that lasts in our memories forever. It is sad that with advent of tools and technology only a few modern students will ever get an opportunity to experience anything of this kind. Many wonder “Why students don’t get as much out of lectures?”, and the truth is that there are a myriad of reasons, from as simple as lapses in concentration to more complex like lack of interest in the subject. Many studies conducted by experts validate the importance of good lectures. Real lecturing can be a good way of passing knowledge and can play an influential role in improving the performance of students. Teachers even face stubborn attendance problems which ultimately distorts their interest in class and many classes often ended the semester half-empty; with efforts like using newer methods or introduction of online tests also failing to bring any considerable effect.
Experts, who usually have something to teach which is worth learning, should feel more confident about the aptness of the method. Contrary to the popular belief, lectures are not an inferior medium, nor should the lecture be seen as subordinate to the provision of written texts. Accordingly, lecturers should resist the temptation of making lectures more ‘entertaining’ by over-using multimedia tools. Since lectures are principally ‘aural’, the visual material should generally be like simple summary diagrams which are appropriate for recording in lecture notes. Mostly, lectures should aim to be enjoyable, but shouldn’t attempt to be entertaining. Lectures should be memorable rather than distracting.
In a nutshell, lectures retain a major educational role as learning through lectures is easier and more effective in comparison to literacy-based and electronic media. And to increase the effectiveness of university teaching, it is important to make learning as easy as possible. Making lectures more enjoyable and effective should be the actual goal, instead of trying to phase them out. This can only be done by understanding how lectures exploit human psychology – particularly the fact that lectures are fundamentally formal, verbal, shared events.