Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lecture Hall

Let me just admit that even in college I had a geek’s fondness for the old-style, stodgy lecture class—you know, a professor at the front of the room droning on for fifty minutes about something like the Federalist Papers. It’s not that I was the kid sitting in the front row paying scrupulous attention and taking notes. What I liked about the lecture format was that it provided a kind of soothing background noise, the ideal accompaniment for staring out the window, zoning out and filling my notebook with drawings of my favorite NBA team logos.

The Boston Globe’s Brainiac blog comments on a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education about a community college in New Mexico that has introduced microlectures—prerecorded one-minute bursts of insight for use in online courses. Brainiac is interested in the pedagogical issues. But my problem with the idea is that a one-minute lecture isn’t nearly long enough to achieve the kind of transcendental boredom that I used to get from some of my most monotonous profs.

I still spend a lot of time in college classrooms, and I’d still rather sit through a lecture than a seminar-style discussion. I don’t mean to disrespect the whole Socratic give-and-take, but mostly it makes me uncomfortable. Too often the professor seems desperate to draw any kind of response out of his students, and too often the students seem to be trying too hard to tell the professor what he wants to hear. It’s as if they’ll say anything to get him off their backs and onto the next student. It’s like being in the middle of a really awkward dinner-party conversation.

Lectures spare you that kind of cringe-worthy academic interaction. This is what I miss about lectures: the Zen-like calm of a single, stupefyingly boring, professorial voice droning on.


  1. I can't figure out why more people haven't connected the decreasing number of lectures with the increasing importance of student evaluations. They SAY they want to talk. But then they don't read the material so they have anything to contribute.

  2. I punted much of my reading to the end of the quarter for all four years of college, and for some reason still liked the small discussion classes best. Probably because they forced me to do at least enough reading not to look like a complete idiot. In lecture classes, I often brought a book.