Last week a colleague published a popular piece on the death of the lecture.

The response was predictable as I have seen this play out a number of times – staff lamenting the loss.

Some reasons were good, some were bad, and others ugly.

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A disclaimer :
This thread is my own opinion. It is not the position of the University, which has made no long-term decision about the fate of lectures. That said: As publicly stated, we are not able to run lectures while physical distancing measures remain in place.
A call for nuance:
Whether a reason for lamenting the loss of lectures is good or not depends a great deal on what you mean by lecture. So ..

By lecture I mean traditional, didactic, “stand and deliver” speaking to large groups of students.
Such didactic delivery is, as the old joke goes, “a means of transmitting notes from the lecturer’s page to the student’s page, without it going through the mind of either.”

(I have seen this attributed to many people, if you have the definitive source please let me know)
This didactic teaching is not what everyone means by lecture. And some of the things that fall into the category of lectures are worth keeping.

These are the Good Reasons
Number 1: Social learning
Many people wanting to keep their lectures describe what I would think of as a workshop (broadly conceived).

Introductory comments by the lecturer, followed by active learning by students, very often in groups.
Lectorials are a popular example. A typical lectorial might involve an opening by the lecturer, catalyst material via video and small group work followed by reporting back to the entire cohort.

There are many other options.
No sane person would want to eliminate these types of activities – active learning, social learning, real-time interaction with students …

These are all great things.
It is worth noting that these activities can be pretty hard to do with large classes (100 people or more) in traditional lecture theatres. Conversely, if you have 30-40 (or less) students in a flat floored space these are exactly the types of things you should be doing.
Number 2: Modelling / demonstrating
The first large course I coordinated was formal logic. A few hundred people across multiple campuses. The “lectures” usually involved completing proofs while engaging in meta-commentary about why I did things a certain way.
The same thing happens in other formal domains (e.g. mathematics). I don’t think of these as lectures; they are rather specific forms of modelling or demonstrating. Small cohorts are typically better, but they still work pretty well with larger classes.
Number 3: Community Building
Getting students altogether allows them to build a sense of community which improves both student experience and learning. Unquestionably worth doing and, although not impossible, is more difficult to do online.
Number 4: Performance art / motivation
My first-year philosophy lecturer was the legendary Prof Bill Joske. He is pretty much the reason I became a philosopher, so I get how motivating, inspiring and (indeed) life changing a really accomplished lecturer can be, but …
There aren’t many Bill Joske’s in the world …

And there some pretty good reasons to distrust our (i.e. academic’s) perception of the value of lectures. Which brings us to …
The Bad

Number 1: I liked lectures
I loved lectures. I also consumed all the recommended readings *before* the start of semester. I was not a typical student. And if you are now a lecturer then you also weren’t a typical student, so …
The fact you liked or even loved lectures doesn’t tell us much about how most people experience them.

Something like survivor bias is at work here:
Number 2: I like giving lectures
I loved lecturing. I also love AFL, but that is not a good reason to show Blue's games to the student cohort.

This one is so bad its almost ugly … which I just mean to be particularly bad.
The Ugly

I should note: The ugly reasons typically come from throw away lines on twitter. I don’t believe many people would actually run these arguments given time to consider them.
Number 1. It helps students learn to concentrate
Waiting in the cue at the bank builds patience, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on computer banking. Also, I don’t know of any evidence to show lectures actually help with concentration ...
Number 2: I am literally called a “lecturer”
Although a bad reason for keeping lectures, this move actually points to something rather deep (professional identity) that at least partially explains the resistance to eliminating lectures. A topic for another day.
Number 3: We have always done it this way
This move wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t viable options.

And anyway: have we always lectured? A good excuse to look at a very brief history of university teaching. A thread for next week.

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