Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lectures as warm-up

In "College 2.0: More Professors Could Share Lectures Online. But Should They?" Jeffrey R. Young interviews some professors who have put their lectures online and some who have hesitated. The reasons for hesitation vary from seeing the classroom as a "sacred space" to a recording system that doesn't let you log in even though you have the password (we've all been there, haven't we?).

There are a lot of interesting parts to the article, but the one that stood out was this one:
And lectures might just fall out of popular use in physical classrooms, because professors could just point to their past recordings or those of others and assign viewings for homework. To keep students interested in the classroom, some professors would focus more on discussion or group projects and things that can't be easily captured on video.
I can see how this would work for science classes, as Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor at the University of Virginia quoted in the article, mentions in the comments. But what about humanities classes where discussion is already a big part of the class? What if the "lecture" is really a warm-up to and framing of the major business of the class, which is the discussion of a text?

That's what my "lectures" really are, and they rarely last more than, say, 20 minutes. The purpose is to introduce concepts and terms for talking about the literature, and as I talk, I can see by looking at their faces whether I need to expand on a certain concept or give another example. I can stop, backtrack, or cut short something that they don't seem to need--or I can ask them directly if they need more explanation or if I'm going too fast.

I'm imagining how this would work if I just assigned them to watch a previous lecture, as the quotation suggests.

"So, did you all catch me last night on YouTube? Do you remember what I said about the principle of X? Stu Dent, can you summarize this principle for us?"

Maybe Stu Dent summarizes the principle, but maybe Stu Dent sits with a blank look on his face and the only sound I hear is crickets.

Given the trouble we've all had at points getting students to read the material, what makes us think that they'd be more eager to spend time watching our lectures?

Also, if given a choice between watching a video and reading an article about a subject, I choose the article because watching a video takes a lot more time. Wouldn't students feel the same way?

In a discussion-based humanities classroom, a lecture isn't a waste of class time that can be outsourced to YouTube or MIT for greater efficiency. It's a fundamental technique for focusing attention, for putting students and the instructor in the same classroom space mentally as well as physically. The point of the lecture is to put us all in the same place so that we can talk about the work, and immediacy is a key part of that.


brandontheweaver said...

as a English student whose professor records his lectures, I find them really useful. I still go to class and discuss so the recordings just become a resource for writing papers and whatnot. I know this isn't necessarily the norm (many people in the class who attend never say a word). I would not recommend recording only though. As you say, discussion is key!

heu mihi said...

Exactly! Lecturing is not always a one-way system of "content delivery" (which is why, I think, I hate phrases like "content delivery" and "information delivery systems" so much. That and the fact that they are aesthetically displeasing).

Even when I'm the only one talking, I need to see where the students are with what I'm saying, and we all need the immediacy of the lecture in order to make shift into discussion. I can't imagine that there would be any advantage--in, I should say, smallish literature classes of 10-25 students, which is what I mostly teach--to using recorded lectures as a substitute for in-class presentation.

Anonymous said...

I liked the lectures in English, History, Philosophy, French, etc. and also the fact that they were one-off events -- at least for that course. A recording wouldn't be the same.

I never attended the lectures in Math, Physics, etc. because the professor would just get up and read the textbook to us, which I had already read and understood.

undine said...

brandontheweaver, thanks for commenting. Making the recordings available for papers, etc., sounds like a good compromise. Are the lectures delivered in class originally or just online?

heu mihi, I hate "content delivery" for the same reason. I also hate the assumption that it's an either/or proposition: either you're lecturing, which makes you either evil or in need of shiny tech toys, or you're discussing, which means that you need constant lectures on student empowerment by consultants.

profacero, it's interesting to hear that you liked lectures in those subjects. I honestly don't remember them, except for those in 17c. poetry.