Should Colleges Really Eliminate the College Lecture?

Christine Gross Loh:

As a doctoral candidate interviewing at a liberal-arts college some years ago, I rambled, waded through pages of notes, and completely lost my train of thought at one point during my job presentation. Even though I was eventually offered the position, I was keenly aware that, despite interviewing for a job in which I’d have to stand in front of students day after day, I’d never been trained in giving a lecture—and it showed.

But that lack of training is not unusual; it’s the norm. Despite the increased emphasis in recent years on improving professors’ teaching skills, such training often focuses on incorporating technology or flipping the classroom, rather than on how to give a traditional college lecture. It’s also in part why the lecture—a mainstay of any introductory undergraduate course—is endangered.

For some years now, students in MIT’s introductory physics classes, for example, have had no lectures, and physics departments at institutions around the country have been following suit. But while the movement to eliminate the college lecture first gained traction among physics professors, including the Stanford Nobel laureate Carl Wieman and Harvard’s Eric Mazur (a proponent of “peer instruction” who has compared watching a lecturer to learn physics to watching a marathon on TV to learn how to run), it has expanded beyond the sciences. Getting rid of the college lecture entirely is the mission of a broad group of educators.