More on the use of lectures
The IPPR think-tank has just published a report on the future of universities. It's wide ranging and far from stupid. But the focus of most reporting was on the idea of lectures, and how time expired they basically were.
Why, if you can see Niall Ferguson on your laptop, would you bother to turn up to hear Dr MuchLessFamous in the lecture theatre itself?
I'm all for raising this question, but I was suprised that noone in the reports of the report that I heard or read, or in the document itself, made any defence of the traditional lecture.
Nor did they ask what we thought lectures were for.
The first point has to be that (despite the assumptions of the IPPR report) lectures are not primarily for the transmission of information (or not alone). If that's what you want, then for heaven's sake go to a book. I mean if you want Niall Ferguson's views on empire, you'll get them a lot more efficiently from the written version.
As I have come to see it, lectures partly transmit information; but they are more importantly about changing minds and attitudes. And that's only done when you know who it is that you are talking to. I mean if you come to hear me lecturing about the Conspiracy of Catiline, I hope you'll go away with more information -- but also with a way of seeing that only comes from the kind of eyeball to eyeball confrontation that a lecture represents.
That's partly about the ability to answer back, face to face....and I dont mean the virtual answering back, the sending in an email with a query. I mean the hand-up that says 'sorry Prof Beard, but I'm not sure you're right"... the hand-up that is shared with the rest of the audience.
And it's partly about just seeing who you are talking to, and talking directly to them. Sure, I could give a lecture that could be sent round the web, about (lets say) the Fall of the Roman Republic. But those views would be much more speedily got across from what I have written. When I lecture I am engaging in human interaction with an audence who is actually there. That's what a lecture's about! And I am talking to the audience.
I am sure that some lectures impart infornation efficiently on the web, but they are, for the most part, the uninteresting ones. Not entirely - there is a great tradition of wonderful radio talks. But the best lectures for students are delivered TO THEM.. in groups of a 100 to 200. They are not celebrity performances to a million.
It's about interaction not display.