One of my favorite ways to procrastinate is by feigning productivity at the library. My friends and I will sit around a table and pretend to do homework, when in reality we are just chatting and enjoying each other’s company. Every now and then we will stop talking for about five minutes, during which I reread a page that I have already read seven times, and then someone will say something, and we will lose focus all over again. It’s wonderful.I love these nights at the library, not because I get much done, but because we always end up having the most interesting conversations. Like last week, when someone asked, “What’s your favorite class that you’ve taken at GC?” It was a seemingly simple question, but it stuck with me.
When thinking back on my favorite classes from the past three years, they all have had one thing in common. Excluding my studio art classes, which are a different ball game altogether, my favorite classes have all been lecture-based.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all lecture classes are good — I’ve sat through my fair share of boring lectures, which usually result in a notebook page of doodles. But those lectures that are good? Those can be life-changing.
In the world of education, there is a shift towards making everything interactive, especially in the K-12 setting. I generally think this is a good thing, especially for younger kids and hands-on or creative disciplines; students need to be digging in dirt looking for bugs, finger-painting landscapes and scribbling in their notebooks, not just looking at powerpoints and listening to their teacher talk. But in a college setting, interactive class activities usually look like one thing: turn to your neighbors and talk. While some of these conversations are interesting, most of them haven’t really aided my learning in a substantial way. Usually someone in the group hasn’t done the reading, or you have the same confusions, so you eventually change subjects or fall silent.
Interactive learning experiences are important, but there is something to be said for the knowledge transfer between a professor and a student that can only happen in a lecture setting. There are some facts and formulas and dates and definitions that students just need to be told. It is essential for learning, and by writing off lectures, we are losing a valuable aspect of education.
Our professors have not gone through years and years of expensive education just to tell us to turn to our neighbors and talk. They have knowledge that they shouldn’t be nervous to share with us because they think our fragile attention spans can’t handle it. Attention spans are not static. They can grow, but only if we put ourselves in a position to let them.
50 minutes feels like a long time to stay focused, especially in the internet age — we are being trained by social media and algorithms to only consume information in short bursts. But for more in-depth learning and understanding, we need to learn how to focus and synthesize information for longer periods of time. So many of the skills necessary for a quality education require sitting down and focusing for long periods of time, namely reading and writing. If we aren’t being asked to sit and focus in class, and we aren’t doing it outside of class either, where do we learn these skills?
I think the movement against lectures is misguided — the real enemy is a bad lecture: one that isn’t thought out, isn’t engaging, isn’t delivered well and doesn’t give relevant or new information. I’m all for getting rid of those. But our professors are knowledgeable experts in their fields, and we are paying thousands of dollars to sit in their classes. Telling professors not to lecture is a disservice, both to them and students.