Are Lecture Halls Obsolete? An Education Rant — With Extra Credit Reading


Today's topic: Lectures halls are wasted butt time for college students — who are yearning for a more kinetic, collaborative, and engaging education worthy of their time and our investment.

Did you do the reading? What's that ... you didn't know you there was an assignment? Typical!

Well, here's some reading you can do for extra credit. I chuckled when I came across this more thoughtful and well-researched article from the BBC that parallels one of my own time-tested education rants about this time-honored format in desperate need of a nationwide click-and-delete action step.

BBC News: Shouldn't lectures be obsolete by now?

Research shows that students remember as little as 10% of their lectures just days afterwards. A Harvard study in 2014 found that, on average, attendance at lectures falls from 79% at the start of term to 43% at the end.

And studies suggest other forms of teaching are much more effective in improving exam results and attendance. Professor Dan Butin, founding dean of the school of education and social policy at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, says the lecture has survived because research, not teaching, determines the success of a university and its academics.

... So right now I’m clearing my throat, adjusting my tweed blazer with the elbow patches, and winding up to deliver a semi-boring discourse on the meaningless medium of lecture halls and its victims.

But wait, before making my point let me waste your time by declaring that I feel our universities should have an Oprah-level of shame for how little effort they’ve placed into rethinking this empty vessel of pretend learning. Colleges love, love, love to acquire real estate for future groundbreaking ceremonies — but our intuitions of higher learning have broken little ground on their most valuable resource: the sacred relationship of a student and teacher.

OK, time wasted, so let's move on. And please no texting while I ask this important question. Why, much like answering machines, Hummers, and over-priced cable, is the lecture format still with us? Why haven’t we moved beyond it? Here are my thoughts/notes that you could have read in your dorm on a link — but you’re here now so let’s begin, shall we?

Why lecture halls still exist:

They’re scheduled. They’re money-makers. We have them, so we should use them. Big lecture halls look and feel important and lofty ... and shouldn’t education feel important even when it’s not? It's easier to charge for one big class than hire teachers for many small classes or rethink how to transition for true impact. It's easier to schedule 500 students for some pointless PowerPoints than it is to reduce class size and connect. The resources and time allocated for major research far outrank the resources and time allocated for the major changes needed to help prepare students for a 21st-century experience. A point clarified in the more smarty-pants BBC article. Extra credit for clicking on it, but only after we’re through. Please, stay focused! They’re scheduled. They’re money-makers. What? Those are repeats? Just seeing if you’re paying attention.

I’m tired too, class dismissed, but I'll stick around to answer any questions. OK, maybe later. Don’t forget your BBC link. OK, maybe later. I gotta get out of this itchy tweed.

EducationKathryn Lake