Another Defense of the Lecture


Miya Tokumitsu, an art historian at the University of Melbourne, is the latest academic to defend the virtues of the lecture in an age when “lab-and project-based learning…flipped classrooms and online instruction” are gaining in popularity.  Tokumitsu, in a recent piece at Jacobin, argues that the lecture “remains a powerful tool for teaching, communicating, and community building.”

Here is a taste:

Lectures are not designed to transmit knowledge directly from the lecturers’ lips to students’ brains — this idea is a false one, exacerbated by the problematic phrase “content delivery.” Although lecturers (hopefully) possess information that, at the beginning of a lecture, their students do not, they are not merely delivering content. Rather, giving a lecture forces instructors to communicate their knowledge through argument in real time.

The best lectures draw on careful preparation as well as spontaneous revelation. While speaking to students and gauging their reactions, lecturers come to new conclusions, incorporate them into the lecture, and refine their argument. Lectures impart facts, but they also model argumentation, all the while responding to their audience’s nonverbal cues. Far from being one-sided, lectures are a social occasion.

The regular timing of lectures contributes to their sociality, establishing a course’s rhythm. The weekly lecture, or pair of lectures, draws students together at the same time and place, providing a set of ideas to digest while reading supplementary material and breaking into smaller discussion sections. Classrooms are communities, and typically lectures are the only occasion for the entire group to convene physically. Remove the impetus to gather — either by insinuating that recorded lectures are just as effective or by making the lecture optional — and the benefits of community disappear.

Read the entire piece here.  Tokumitsu seems to favor plenary lectures alongside smaller discussion groups and discussions of texts.

One thought on “Another Defense of the Lecture

  1. As Phillips Brooks said, preaching is truth through personality. I do think the lecture provides what cannot be gained through any other medium as well – how truth affects the person. This, too, is part of the truth, is it not? Truth inside a woman or a man coming out through the pores of their personality, values, believes, priorities and goals can find multiple portals through which to enter the class. Modern education theories undersell the significance of this event. We are poorer for it.


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