A generation ago, students did not have the luxury of attending lectures armed with hourly-updated Course Tools notes, on-line discussion group postings or even Powerpoint presentation slides.
So has the lecture, the long-cherished tool of higher education, been rendered obsolete in the face of modern technology?
Engineering freshman Austin Maxey said he feels that lectures have become outdated.
“You can get everything online,” Maxey said. “When you print lecture notes off the Internet, you have everything the professor is going to say.”
Matt Kaplan, associate director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in the School of Education, disagrees that the lecture as we know it will ever become outdated. But he concedes that there are drawbacks.
“Lecturing is a tool like any other – it is good for covering large amounts of material, and it can motivate students to learn,” Kaplan said.
But he added, “(lectures) are not suited to stimulating higher-level thinking, and it’s hard to get feedback to see what is being absorbed by the students. You are assuming that everybody is learning on the same page.”
LSA senior Blake Postma had similar criticisms. “Lectures are just boring. Personally, I don’t really go,” Postma said.
In attempts to further engage students in their lectures, the Physics Department has instituted a system called “Peer Response” that allows for students to provide their lecturer with feedback several times throughout the course of the lecture.
Physics Prof. Tim McKay regularly utilizes this system with his large introductory physics lectures.
Throughout his lecture, McKay will often ask his students a question, and instantly receives answers from each student via student-held receivers.
“What I’m trying to see is, do people under-stand this or not?” McKay said.
If most of the students answer incorrectly, McKay lets the students discuss possible answers with each other, thus the name “Peer Response.”
“I have found that (the system) forces students to engage in material during lecture, and forces them to think about,” McKay said.
This is certainly good news for Postma, who said he feels that students can’t process information while professors are lecturing. “(Students) are just writing stuff down,” he said.
History Prof. Thomas Trautmann said he feels that the lecture will not become extinct.
“What we do when we lecture is embody ideas, and put them in the flesh,” Trautmann said. “All other forms or instruction have the disadvantage of being distant.”
A historian by trade, Trautmann said he feels the past has already proven that an old medium can be enhanced by new technology.
“Is the computer going to replace the book? The answer is, the computer only enhances the book – it makes it easier to purchase books, and makes library cataloging of books much more efficient,” Trautmann said.
Physics department Chair and Prof. Citrad Uher said that he agrees new technology does not pose a threat to lecturing, but can improve its effectiveness.
“Technology in the classroom, be it audio or visual, is very important,” Uher said. “The new generations of students are very in tune to this, and they respond far better to presentation in this form.”