I love to lecture. I am better at lecturing than I am at leading discussions, although I like the intimacy of the small group and think I am getting better at such discussions. I am passionate about lecturing and I try to give my students their money’s worth every time I step behind the lectern.
Barry Strauss notes in a short piece on the Minding the Campus website that college lectures have been attacked as being either too authoritarian (the Left) or too lowbrow (the Right). Lectures have also been attacked by pedagogy gurus who argue that student learning does not and cannot take place in a large lecture hall.
I have largely ignored all of these criticisms of the lecture. Perhaps I have ignored them at my own peril. Perhaps I only THINK that my students are learning something from my lectures. While it is true that most history education takes place through the close reading and discussion of documents, I also think that a large lecture, for reasons Strauss mentions in his piece, is still valuable. I’ll let Strauss explain:
In any case, lecturing is a democratic activity. Communication in a democracy means persuasion. It also means stepping outside the comfort zone of a circle of friends of acquaintances and speaking to strangers. Democracies cannot afford the luxury of speaking only to small groups; they require speaking to the crowd.
With speech comes danger, and crowds can fall for demagogues. A good lecture course educates students against just that danger, because it gives them the leisure to evaluate the lecturer’s words. Discussion sections provide just that opportunity, since they allow the student to ask follow-up questions about the lecture. Usually, the interlocutor is a graduate-student teaching assistant – a less daunting figure to challenge than the professor.
I like this–lecturing as part of the democratic process.
I am interested in hearing again from students and faculty. Faculty–do you think lectures are worthwhile pedagogical tools? Students or former students–do you learn anything from sitting through lectures?