In defense of boring lectures

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Disliking a room packed with 200 people at 8:30 a.m. is no reason to give up on lectures. 
 
Over the course of university, lecture sizes dwindle from as large as 500 to as small as 50, and seminars, tutorials and labs take precedence. During that time, students learn to deride lectures for their in-class distractions. 
 
After all, one professor can’t stop every student from fidgeting, doodling, or napping in class.
 
But the so-called “sage on a stage,” as coined by Alison King in 1997, involving one instructor standing at the front of a passive audience, has plenty of  benefits. 
 
Lectures are distracting. However, that’s due to class size and a professor’s delivery, which aren’t comments on the overall model. In a class of 500, odds are that at least one student will be online shopping—and pulling students away from class. 
 
Furthermore, many professors earn their PhDs because they enjoy research, leading to engaging or creative lectures taking a backseat. 
 
All this is to say that, though their execution needs work, lectures aren’t to blame for failing to engage students. 
 
In 2018, lectures are more flexible than ever before. Professors typically include visual components, from animated slides to videos, and students are often welcome to ask questions throughout. 
 
It’s also critical to acknowledge that they’re seldom the only option. Lectures are typically accompanied by tutorials and workshops for lower-year students in need of guidance when processing information from their readings. 
 
Lectures provide the passive learning students need before they apply their knowledge through projects, presentations, and groupwork. The classes’ consistent format regardless of student level provides a space to learn subject matter without feeling the pressure of participation and perceived instructor judgement. 
 
In seminars, outgoing peers can dominate discussion. This can encourage students’ feelings of inferiority when racing those around them to answer a question for participation marks. While these smaller class sizes allow students to bond with professors and engage in conversation, they can also trigger anxiety or disengagement. 
 
No one size fits all—lectures aren’t a perfect solution to effective university learning. But lecture and seminar-style classes co-exist at universities across the country. 
 
Everyone learns differently, and the passive nature of academic lectures shouldn’t be discounted because they’re traditional. 
 
What lectures might lack in style, they make up for in substance.
 
 

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