Lectures still have much to offer students | Letters

I take exception to Simon Jenkins’ claim that university lectures are “rubbish education” (We need a revolution in university teaching – and online-only lectures could start it, 9 July). He points out that Manchester University students do not think so, but then assumes that it’s not really lectures these students want but simply proximity to a live academic, through seminars, tutorials, etc.

“Live” tutorials are vital pedagogy, but let’s not confuse what they offer with live lectures. They are different and complementary, not opposed or substitutable. Jenkins lampoons lectures as soporifically dull exercises in posturing vanity. He is wrong.

Good lectures should never be just regurgitated information from articles or books. They synthesise information from diverse sources: explaining, illuminating and expanding on complex theories and concepts. Crucially, they are synergistic: developing insights and meanings, introducing students to scholarly research in the area, including (hopefully) the lecturer’s original contribution to the field of inquiry. This is not something tutorials offer.

Good lectures are not all the same or static; they are dynamic performance art, combining deep scholarship with the craft and skills of the stage actor. When I was a student, a great lecture was equal to going to the theatre. I loved them and learned much from them.

The student feedback I receive tells me that today’s students feel much the same. Far from sleeping through a lecture, the students I see bounce out of the classroom afterwards, engaged and exhilarated by what they have been part of.
Dr Sara Ashencaen Crabtree
Professor of social and cultural diversity, Bournemouth University

Simon Jenkins’ view of lecturing is that it is a knowledge-shovelling exercise. A good lecture involves interaction between student and lecturer. The student can ask questions about things they do not understand. Perhaps even more valuable, the lecturer can gauge, from studying students’ body language in response to their questions, whether they understand the topic. They can also use the lecture to assess and review students’ progress in covering the syllabus and identify areas needing more attention.
Dr John Cookson

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