Are lectures dying out?

There’s a small lecture theatre beside my office that holds about 40 students. I regularly pass it and peep in to see what’s going on. Originally I did it out of nosiness but these days I’m interested in attendance rates.

Most of the time when I look in there is a handful of students looking bored or knackered, with quite a few looking at their phones. In fairness, the lectures seem a bit dull and often involve a scientist or mathematician writing on the blackboard with his/her back to the students.

I’ve also noticed that it’s much easier this year to find a car parking space. I’m usually in before 8am but even on days when I’m not in until 10am or so, I rarely have trouble finding a place. This was not true just a few years ago.

And now, when I have a 9am lecture, I tell the students I won’t start until 9.15am and the reason is that I’m fed up of students wandering in late.

What’s going on? I think a number of things have happened at the same time: (i) the current generation of students finds lectures pretty unengaging and given that lecture notes tend to be available online, they don’t see any added value in attending lectures; (ii) students are commuting large distances and genuinely can’t make it in in time for early-morning lectures; (iii) timetables are often sub-optimal with large gaps between lectures, gaps that encourage students to just head home rather than stick around for a few hours.

In the past I have been very pro-lectures because I liked lectures myself when I was a student. But I don’t particularly enjoy lecturing myself so most of my ‘lectures’ are interactive and involve students solving problems for at least some of the time. I can ‘lecture’ this way because it suits the engineering subjects that I teach but also because my class sizes are relatively small – 30 students or so. I tend to get very good attendance.

But it strikes me that the days of going into a lecture hall and giving a Powerpoint presentation (or just chalking and talking) are nearing their end.

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4 thoughts on “Are lectures dying out?

  1. Have you considered recording your lectures, requiring them to view beforehand and take a superficial Moodle quiz that is only available up to the time you are in class? Then, perhaps you can have some confidence that most of the class viewed your lecture before you do the problems in class.

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  2. I’ve seen others in other faculties mention this very point to a university president when the president was outlining vision for the following 5 years.

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    1. The timetabling issue? A lot of our students have shocking timetables – huge gaps between lectures or lecture at none, lab until 5 and another lecture until six. When I studied Chem Eng back in the day we had four lectures every morning and labs in the afternoon. And we had our own classroom – collaboration emerged ‘organically’ – it didn’t have to be forced.

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