A Defense of the Lecture

This article was on InsideHigherEd.com. It is by Adam Kotsko, a visiting assistant professor of religion at Kalamazoo College. He defends the lecture and points out some flaws in discussion-based classes. What do you think? I’ll start off with my own comment in the comment section.

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3 Responses to A Defense of the Lecture

  1. gretchenmckay says:

    I don’t think that lecturing is bad. I don’t think that discussion-based classes are inherently good. My students struggle at times with discussions based on readings. However, they do best in classes where there is a bit of lecture to explain the main concepts, and then a group project/discussion/presentation in class that they do together that makes them apply concepts/facts/ideas that they read about before coming to class. I think I am seeing the value of “mixing it up.”

    I do see my students glaze over about 40 or so minutes into my lecturing. I know then it is time to do something else. But the “something else” can be lots of things. I don’t see this as “Lecture versus Discussion” type of existence in the classroom.

    I announced to yesterday’s Rome class that Tuesday there will be an “Emperor Convention.” They will be given an Emperor and will have to “present” that person’s best contributions to the Empire. I mention this, because when I announced it to them, I saw smiles and heard one, “Cool.” Somehow I think that will beat a lecture on Septimius Severus and Caracalla from me (even though I *love* talking about both of them! Not to mention poor Geta!).

  2. I agree with the big-picture thesis here, that discussions are not inherently good and lectures inherently bad, but there are some problems.
    First, it seems to me that one of the central problems in discussion, which underlies many of the critiques of discussion, is that the criteria of ‘correctness’ is peer-based. That has a good and a bad side. In the ideal scenario, students push eachother to greater and greater depths of analysis and critique and end up teaching eachother. In the bad, discussion becomes about doing just enough to impress or dominate the peers and no more. In the later form, which I think probably is far more common than the former, pure discussion courses tend to reward bullship and cultivate blow-hards. The problem here, however, is not discussion per se – it is allowing the standards of rigor to be set by the peer group, and not by the instructor. If the instructor manages to instill a rigorous standard of debate in the discussion, and defends that standard, discussions can be a wonderful thing. Of course, the same applies to lecture: if the lecturer sticks to the standard of merely ‘wowing’ the audience, the lecture will lack.
    On a second note, I have a slight issue with the final paragraph: “The goals of critical thinking are the only possible goals of a liberal arts education, and I support them without reservation.”
    While I (obviously) hold that CT is central to liberal education, it is no the ‘only possible goal.’ Creative expression, global citizenship, academic honesty and something more general like ’empathy’ should be considered goals of a liberal education in addition to CT. If we’re feeling charitable, we might say that Adam Kotsko is here guilty of simple hyperbole. But as he appears to identifying careful reading as one of the goals of critical thinking that he holds so dear, I suspect that he, in fact, is ignoring out these and other liberal arts goals.

  3. Robin Armstrong says:

    The author has some good points, but applies them poorly, I think. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a pedagogy discussion with an either/or take on it, and have always believed that balance and variety in classroom presentations can lead the students through a host of necessary skills from reading critically to listening critically, to analyzing/discussing, writing, forumating, creating, – i.e. learning. While I hope that the author is not advocating lecture only, it does begin to sound like that. I don’t advocate discussion only, nor any one mode only. Balance – difficult but essential.

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