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Lectures are dumb

Forgive me for sounding unintelligent, but lectures are dumb. They are lazy, ineffective, boring and a supreme waste of time and money. Why are we physically going into a classroom to do something that could be done from a couch with a laptop? Honestly. Could we make class time worth our time, please?

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By Sean Evans (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 17, 2012

Forgive me for sounding unintelligent, but lectures are dumb. They are lazy, ineffective, boring and a supreme waste of time and money. Why are we physically going into a classroom to do something that could be done from a couch with a laptop? Honestly. Could we make class time worth our time, please?

Don’t get me wrong, I think that it is necessary for us to meet together. It is what the university is built upon—a coming together of the minds to pursue knowledge and understanding. I may sound high minded, but the lecture is a poor substitute for a coming together of the minds.

I am aware that the university setting is not some flowery environment where we talk about our feelings and our minds collectively “come together” (unless, of course, you are majoring in creative writing). There must be a teacher and a student; facts, knowledge and a plethora of other things need to be transferred to the student. What I am saying is that the current method of choice for imparting knowledge—namely, the lecture—is not fostering a community of learners that actually engage with the material and each other on a significant level.

There are a variety of arguments that professors use to justify spending up to four hours of class time a week talking at, not with, their students. Some say it is the best way to ensure students cover all of the bases, others believe that they will inspire their students to engage with the course material on a more meaningful level on their own. Still more argue that students are simply not capable of learning on their own, and thus, they must spend countless hours listening to a human PA system drone on and on.

The problem is not that lectures are boring—although they almost always are—it is that they are simply ineffective. Even if every professor on campus suddenly found the ability to communicate their subject material with beautifully powerful oratory, lectures would still be useless. It is essentially like trying to jam a square peg through a round hole. From my experience, and from conventional wisdom, the vast majority of people can’t maintain focus for much longer than 25 minutes – if that. Beyond that, there remains the question of whether students will even understand or learn the stuff that they are able to pick up in the first 25 minutes. What results is a generation of students who go to class in order to be seen by the professor and get the participation marks.

Often professors complain that students are on Facebook or YouTube or whatever during their lectures. While that is a fairly rude thing to do and I am in no way justifying it (although I may be guilty every once in a while), it does say a great deal about how effectively the class time is being used. Professor, if your students are paying more attention to Facebook than their immediate surroundings, you are at least partially responsible for that.

I am currently in the last semester of my BA in History and English. In my first year I feverishly took notes on everything the professor said. In my second year, I jotted down a few key facts and notes. By my third year, I was done. The lectures that I sat through week after week taught me little about why what I studied mattered.

To be honest, my cumulative GPA in my last two years is .60 points higher than in my first two years. Wasn’t it supposed to be the opposite? I thought upper-level classes were supposed to be the hard ones.

To my shock, when I began taking 300 and 400 level courses I found myself nodding off in fewer lectures and engaging in more discussions. The professors—Sylvie Murray, Chris Leach and Raymond Welch to name a few—began allowing the class to lead the way. It was an amazing thing. We were told to do the readings, some of us did, and we talked about what the author argued. We talked about why it mattered. We engaged with the material, and something happened; I actually started learning how to learn. It would not be an overstatement to say that I first learned to read in the fourth year of my post-secondary education.

Perhaps the first years of our post-secondary education would be more valuable if they were spent like the last two of my degree. Now, I know that that would raise countless problems—class sizes, students who don’t do the readings or simply cannot engage in an intelligent conversation, and a lack of motivation to evolve in some chronic lecturers—but, perhaps it would be worth it in the grand scheme of things. A degree would be so much more valuable than what it currently is if students learned to read and write and engage with the material in their first year rather than their fourth.

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