Attending early classes can be rough, especially when you know you will be inactive for over an hour sitting and listening to a professor speak. But when the professor takes the entire class time, leaving no room for student participation, how can I be expected not to doze off? This style of teaching leaves no room for student participation, a factor that professors drill into students as important. Not only are we at risk of having a zero factored into our grade, but we’re unable to get involved into the material. This allows me to conclude that lecture-style teaching isn’t effective anymore.
However, an op-ed in The New York Times seems to say otherwise. Molly Worthen, assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, wrote of the importance of the lecture style, calling it an essential tool for teaching comprehension and reasoning skills. “Those who want to abolish the lecture course do not understand what a lecture is. A lecture is not the declamation of an encyclopedia article,” she wrote. Although the lecture format demands students to process information, draw conclusions and form a response as they listen, Worthen asserts that “if we abandon the lecture format because students may find it difficult, we do them a disservice.”
My experience at Fairfield has led me to question whether Worthen’s assertions are accurate. One of the religion classes that I have taken at Fairfield was strictly a lecture where the professor talked for an hour and 15 minutes straight. Not only did this not keep my attention, but I found it harder to concentrate since no other students were involved in the conversation. Students were simply copying down the information that the teacher was saying. How is copying down notes from a lecture considered learning? Instead of retaining the information, students like myself end up memorizing the notes solely for the purpose of regurgitating it for tests and quizzes. While Worthen seems to find value in lectures, my experiences in classes that were not styled this way proved to be more beneficial to me.
Last semester, I took a philosophy class that was based on class discussion. The teacher would introduce a topic to us and explain the main concepts. Then, she would prompt us with a question that carried into a discussion among students. This way of teaching encouraged us to put more thought into the subject. I favored the class for this reason. The open format gave me a better understanding of philosophy, which made writing papers easier and overall translated into a better grade than my other courses.
My calculus teacher also incorporated group work, which gave me the chance to combine my knowledge with others and learn collectively. A 2014 study that Worthen cites in her op-ed revealed that when lectures were replaced with “active learning” such as group work, tests scores in math and science improved. If active learning shows more improvement, it should be used more often. Since it improves the grades that students receive, they are obviously understanding the material better, which is a major benefit to this style of teaching.
Additionally, I believe that introducing new technologies in the classroom is another alternative to lecture-based classes. When visual aids, such as PowerPoints and interactive websites, are used, the attentiveness of students is generally higher. Teachers should not simply be relaying information to their students in a monotonous tone, but should be encouraging student participation through the use of these visual aids. I know some teachers may prefer the old-fashioned method of lecturing because they don’t know how to incorporate new technology to enhance the classroom experience. If that is the case, then professors should make all efforts to incorporate attention-getting tactics into their lectures to spark the interests of their students.
I think that it’s time to ditch the old habit of a lecture-style lesson by focusing more on classroom discussions and utilizing new technology. Professors must change their ways of communicating the material, otherwise there will be a decline in students’ understanding and retaining of the information. If teachers want to see the class’ performance rise, then they need to learn that lectures are not the way to go.