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.