Lectures: An avoidable burden or a breeding ground for passion?

By Sarah Harris

University without lectures is like a gin and tonic without ice – the content is the same, but it’s served disconcertingly differently. It is what many think of as the basis of a degree (lectures, not gin).

Before we flock to university in first year, we fantasise about lectures being a mystical experience, the holy grail of learning, poles apart from school and the learning we had come to know. We imagine ourselves in a Hogwarts-esque environment, soaking up the knowledge and the wit of the best minds in our fields, a fanciful Dalai Lama/Russell Howard hybrid, perhaps.

However, once sat in our first lecture it becomes bitterly apparent that our fantasies were really just that, fantasies. So with our hopes and dreams lying in tatters, who can forgive us for contemplating what exactly is the value of lectures, and are they even necessary to our degrees?

Perhaps we should consider our lecturer’s feelings before failing to attend our 9AMs, think of your poor lecturer who will have been pouring over his slides and practicing his projection all week, only for it to be heard by a handful of undergrads filling up no further than the front row. He might as well have sat back in his office and talked monotonously into a recording device while enjoying a cuppa. Indeed, he could have, but wouldn’t we all have attended the Open University if this is what we really wanted? It is not what we pay £27,000 for and would surely cause an outcry among students.

Then why isn’t this reflected in lecture attendance?

Doubtless, pity for the lecturer can’t be a reason for attending; pity should not be an emotion a lecturer evokes, nor will it facilitate learning. We should be inspired by them, which many students claimed they aren’t. Digitised attendance monitoring systems, like Scan and Sit implemented in our university last semester are helping to provide more insight into students’ attendance. In a recently conducted survey, a staggering 40% of people admitted to not attending the majority of their lectures. Yet only 13% said that lectures are unnecessary. Clearly, we like to have the option of a lecture so that we can politely decline.

Thanks but no thanks, Uni.

75% of students said they were more likely to attend a lecture if they like the lecturer. The things which make us like our lecturers are also likely to be those which make their lectures more fulfilling. It’s essential for a good lecturer to be authentic, have charisma and an infectious enthusiasm for their subject. You should feel like there is nowhere else they would rather be other than standing in the lecture theatre with you, sharing their knowledge and experience.

The value of a lecture depends to a large extent on the ability of the lecturer to engage us; we’re not expecting Oscar award winners, but they are called lecture theatres for a reason! It is unrealistic to expect to learn all we need to know from lectures, so the main purpose should be to ignite a passion for the subject and enlighten us to different ways of thinking.

One recurring debate is the recording of lectures with the majority of surveyed students found to be in favour. One Engineering student said that it means you can actually listen in the lecture and enjoy the experience of going without having to worry about taking too many notes. If the ability to record lectures is there, as it is in Bay Campus, then there is no reason not to record them as an extra resource to students as it should even encourage lecturers to give a better performance in the knowledge they will be referred back to at later dates.

In Bruce Charton’s 2006 article on the issue, he states that physically sitting in a lecture theatre is the best way to learn; “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][it] creates a here-and-now social situation which unfolds in real time. Humans are social animals, who are naturally more alert and vigilant in social situations”.

Interestingly, Charlton also asserts that “lectures should aim to be enjoyable, but should not strive to be entertaining as the major goal; because lectures should be memorable rather than diverting”.

However, in an age where many 18 year olds hurry to university without necessarily having a passion for their subject, I believe that the lecture’s main value is creating this passion, in order to do that it is essential to create a desire to attend. Lectures can and should be entertaining, as humour is often engaging and a useful tool in maintaining a hungover student’s attention.

It seems that our dream of a Dalai Lama-come-Russell Howard combo is not so far off the mark, and that lectures are necessary to our degrees. Perhaps it is the lecturers who need to up their game, don their cloaks and canes and give us the magical experience we so desire.

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