Lectures Critiqued by Students and Professors

For years, a classic method of teaching in college level courses has been the lecture. This pedagogy, however, has been enduring critique, by those who question its effectiveness in learning as new studies are conducted. 

A recent study from the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” directly questions the lecture's value, claiming that when compared to methods that hinge on student engagement, the more appealing methods reduced failure rates and improved exam scores by 6 percent. This could mean the difference between a B- and a B. This has led some people to campaign against the use of lectures in schools, like Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University.

"The impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data," Mazur said about this data in an interview with PBS’s “NewsHour” in a 2014 interview.

However, there are advocates who support the lecture and remind their opponents that lectures, when done properly, are not encyclopedia articles of mundane facts regurgitated by a sleepy professor.

Monessa Cummins, the chairwoman of the classics department at Grinnell College, states in a New York Times article called “Lecture Me. Really” that lectures “place a premium on the connections between individual facts” that strive to “build an argument.” 

Moreover, these advocates claim that lectures provide a great service in exercising the mindfulness and listening skills of the student, so that he or she “is able to converse, he is able to listen,” according to religious leader John Henry Newman in his book “John Henry Newman: Spiritual Writings.”

When asked about her experience regarding the effectiveness of lectures, Mia Serban, a Ramapo law and society professor, explained she tries to stay away from lectures, instead combining them with an interactive Q & A component. She feels that her higher-level courses necessitate more active participation rather than passive listening. That being said, she conceits that they can be successful.

"Lectures can be effective depending on the lecturer’s skill and if the class is particularly receptive to a lecturing style," Serban said.

When asked a similar set of questions, Natalia Santamaria Laorden, professor of Spanish at Ramapo, stated that she finds it helpful to review the material they covered in the previous lecture at the start of the class in a mini-lecture style, although she also asks students questions during this portion of the class. Laorden explained that she uses the Socratic method, a form of discussion that is based in asking questions in order to encourage discussion.

The effectiveness of the Socratic method varies, however, depending on the class, according to sophomore Dave Cifelli.

“Some classes need to have a lecture style…it’s hard to have a Socratic discussion about physics," he said.

Other students feel that that success of a class boils down to the effectiveness of the professor, not the method of teaching.

"It ultimately depends on the lecturer and how they deliver the lecture as well as its subject matter," said junior Rich Apramian.