A recent report on the future of universities (aptly entitled ‘An Avalanche is Coming‘), done by the IPPR think tank, brought up the question of the traditional lecture. In the age of OpenCourseWare, MOOCs, and digital resources, it seems that many believe that lectures (and university libraries) no longer have the same relevance that they once had. However, as Mary Beard points out, unlike online resources, lectures are not merely about the transmission of information – for one, the time limits make it very difficult to cover a topic comprehensively.
Lectures are really about a form of interaction and interchange – sure, there will always be students who sleep through the two hours, but there will also be those who ask the right questions, point out mistakes, those whose nods give the lecturer a sense of whether the audience understands the material being delivered. In short, the physical experience of being in a lecture theatre is part of the learning process, and cannot be replaced with a virtual experience. Besides, the presence of peers is another key part of being in a university – my 4 years at college would have been very boring indeed if I only had my computer as a companion. It is all about the community.
The IPPR report suggests that there is something limiting, even isolating, about the closed lecture room doors – perhaps so. But isn’t there something even more closed-off about people glued to the computer screen, and never interacting face-to-face? Can Facebook chat ever replace a conversation over a cup of coffee? Technological aids are great, and institutions can definitely benefit from them, but it would be best if there is a mixture traditional teaching methods and technology, as opposed to a dominance of the latter.