Long Live the Lecture!2017-03-26,
[출처] The Chronicle of Higher Education_Opinion_2017. 3. 26.

Long Live the Lecture!

Few have savaged lecturers as brutally as the Enlightenment-era printmaker William Hogarth. In “Scholars at a Lecture,” the presenter reads from his prepared text, his eyes down, indifferent to his audience. The budding academics are no more impressive; those in thrall to the lecturer’s nonsense have slack faces with lolling eyes and open mouths. The others don’t offer any critique but yawn, doze, or chat idly among themselves.

Hogarth’s most damning image of a lecturer, however, depicts one who does inspire his audience, but to dubious ends. In “Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism,” a minister thunders on about witches and devils as parishioners swoon with terror. The minister’s text quotes II Corinthians: “I speak as a fool.”

Hogarth’s satirical prints express a common belief about lectures: Those who claim the lectern are dullards or charlatans who do so only to gratify and enrich themselves, and the louder they speak, the more we should suspect them.

This distrust has now spread to the lecturer’s natural habitat, the university. Administrators and instructors alike have declared lecturing a stale teaching method and begun advocating new so-called “content delivery” techniques, from lab- and project-based learning to flipped classrooms and online instruction that “disrupt” the sage-on-the-stage model to more ostensibly democratic methods such as gaming.

Support for education is thinning; eroding the legitimacy of lecturing makes it thinner still.

Prominent detractors, including the science writer Annie Murphy Paul and the physics professor Eric Mazur, claim that lectures’ hierarchical, inflexible, and unidirectional structure doesn’t suit our dynamic, crowdsourced world. To be sure, lectures are top-down affairs that occur at fixed times. But these aspects are assets, not weaknesses: They benefit both students and instructors.

While lecturers (hopefully) possess information that, at the beginning of a lecture, their students do not, they are not merely delivering content. While speaking to students and gauging their reactions, lecturers come to new conclusions, incorporate them into the lecture, and refine their argument. Lectures impart facts, but they also model argumentation, all the while responding to their audience’s nonverbal cues. In other words, lectures are a social production.

Audiences outside academe clearly understand the benefits of collective listening. If public lectures did not draw sizable crowds, then museums, universities, bookstores, and community centers would have abandoned them long ago. The public knows that, far from being outdated, lectures can be rousing, profound, and even fun.

The attack on lectures ultimately participates in neoliberalism’s desire to restructure our lives in the image of just-in-time logistics. We must be able to cancel anything at the last minute in our desperate hustle to be employable to anyone who might ask. An economic model that chops up and parcels out every moment of our lives inevitably resists the requirement to convene regularly.

Teaching methods like online modules and recorded lectures, which allow students to access instruction whenever they choose, have become popular because they make it easier for students to work jobs. However, this quality should not necessarily be viewed as a boon to learning: Work, not learning, is the burden that should be eradicated. Education is not an errand to be wedged between Uber shifts; it is a long-term commitment and requires support from society at large. This support is thinning; eroding the legitimacy of lecturing makes it thinner still.


Indeed, in our constant scramble to project adaptable employability, we must always seem harried, even if our flailing about isn’t directed toward anything concrete. Without moving around or speaking, lecture attendees certainly don’t look busy, and so their activity is assumed to be passive, unproductive, and, consequently, irrelevant.

But lecture attendees do lots of things: They take notes, they react, they scan the room for reactions, and most importantly, they listen. Listening to a sustained, hourlong argument requires initiative, will, and focus. In other words, it is an activity. But today, the act of listening counts for very little, as it does not appear to produce any outcomes or have an evident goal.

No matter how fast-paced the world becomes, listening will remain essential to public dialogue and debate. As Monessa Cummins, department chair of classics at Grinnell College, explained to The New York Times: Can students “listen to a political candidate with an analytical ear? Can they go and listen to their minister with an analytical ear? Can they listen to one another? One of the things a lecture does is build that habit.”

Discussion sections after lectures reveal the expert listeners. They ask the best questions, the ones that cut straight to the speaker’s main themes with an urgency that electrifies the whole audience, producing a flurry of excited responses and follow-up questions. Good listening grounds dialogue, expands our body of knowledge, and builds community.

Although they probably haven’t thought about it in these terms, many of the lecture’s critics would probably favor practice to theory in Aristotle’s scheme of knowledge. The historian Pamela H. Smith succinctly describes the difference in The Body of the Artisan (The University of Chicago Press, 2004): theory (episteme, scientia) describes knowledge based on logical syllogism and geometrical demonstration. Practice (praxis, experientia) encompasses things done — like politics, ethics, and economics — or things made — techne, which require bodily labor.

Before the modern era, techne was widely denigrated. Smith writes, “Techne … was the lowly knowledge of how to make things or produce effects, practiced by animals, slaves, and craftspeople. It was the only area of knowledge that was productive.” Today, of course, the tables are turned; techne’s productive quality elevates it above supposedly impractical theory. Indeed, under capitalism, anything that doesn’t immediately appear as productive, even if only in the most superficial way, is dismissed as a waste of time. Outside of students’ notes, lecturing doesn’t produce tangible outcomes like the lab’s tables of data or the team project’s marketing campaign. But as Aristotle outlined, there are many ways to arrive at new knowledge.

Good lectures build knowledge and community; they also model critical civic participation. But students have suffered a wide variety of bad lecturers: the preening windbag, the verbatim PowerPoint reader, the poor timekeeper who never manages to cover all the session’s material. Lecturing does not come naturally and can take years to master, yet very few instructors have the opportunity to learn how to deliver a good lecture. In keeping with our culture’s overall management values that prioritize profit and outputs over workers — even over the work itself — the majority of instructors face excessive workloads, low pay, and job insecurity and therefore have little incentive to invest the time and effort it takes to gain these skills.

Meanwhile, active-learning partisans sometimes overlook the skill it takes to conduct their preferred methods effectively. Becoming a good lab instructor, project facilitator, or discussion leader also takes time and practice. In addition to bad lectures, I’ve sat through plenty of bewildering labs and meandering seminars. Because these teaching methods have the guise of activity, however, their occasional failures are not dismissed as easily as those of the supposedly passive lecture.

Lecturing is increasingly impugned as an inactive and hierarchical pedagogical method. The type of labor demanded in the lecture hall — and the type of community it builds — still matters. Under an economic system that works to accelerate and divide us, institutions that carve out time and space to facilitate collectivity and reflection are needed more than ever.

By Miya Tokumitsu

기사원문 바로가기