As a University of Michigan student, I have to admit that I don’t attend every lecture. As many university courses are posting lecture slides on CTOOLS and recording lectures, I find that my fellow classmates and I are choosing which lectures to attend or not to attend. In some instances a large lecture hall may be beneficial, but I’m afraid lectures aren’t always the best way to learn.
One professor outnumbered by a student-filled lecture hall epitomizes how many perceive college classes. This method has characterized higher education for years because it is an efficient way to teach hundreds of students at once. But students may not actually be learning in such large lecture halls, especially in classes in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) which often require extra attention for students.
To combat the risk of students spacing out in lecture as the professor rambles on, universities like U-M are implementing more types of “active learning”. This includes the use of the iClicker in lectures, which allows students to analyze the recently-taught information by answering questions.
Still, students do not have time to waste, especially in a classroom. Instead of sitting, bored, in a grueling two-hour lecture, it is much better to actively learn as you go along with what the professor says. Not only does this cut down on your own studying time outside of class, but it is much easier to remember the information if you apply it while in discussion.
I decided to test the potential benefits of attending every lecture with my own introductory Biopsychology class. With a pretty large lecture hall, I attended about every lecture before the first exam and for the second exam I watched all the lectures online as they were recorded. To my surprise, I found that I did much better on the second exam than the first one. The advantage to having lectures recorded is that students can stop and pause the lectures and actively learn the material at their own pace. I attribute this to my success on the second exam as I found myself stalking Facebook or getting distracted by the dozens of other students when I actually attended the lecture.
But is the increase in online courses and lectures streaming from YouTube or iTunes predicting the death of the college lecture? Maybe not.
Here at U-M there is one class that I wish did present a uniform lecture: Calculus I. Being taught in a smaller sized class by a graduate student instructor has its benefits, such as more personal time with the instructor and more group activities to apply the mathematical theories. Even so, I do find a flaw in this discussion-based teaching style. One may be assigned an enthusiastic graduate student who actually knows how to teach calculus or a GSI who can barely speak English, much less teach calculus. I fell in the latter category as my graduate student instructor could not convey the concepts to his students clearly, and I did most of my learning outside of class. In this instance, I would have benefited from a uniform lecture taught by a professor to eliminate the disparity in grades between sections. Some students would not be forced to fend for themselves when it came to learning the material while others were understanding the concepts because they had a better GSI.
Eliminating all lectures is clearly not be the best solution, but lectures should be supplemented with opportunities for active learning which can be done through discussions or questions integrated into the lectures. Although university administrations developing new ways for students to learn better, I don’t see lectures becoming extinct anytime in the near future.