In October, The New York Times published an opinion piece called "Lecture Me. Really." that raised a lot of eyebrows. The author, Molly Worthen, discussed how traditional lectures and handwritten notes have slowly faded from university teaching methods in favor of the contemporary "active learning" method. Worthen, a history professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, expressed in her article how she rejects modern tools and technology in favor of a traditional podium and verbally presentation. The article received a vast response, with about 150 comments on the page alone and several heated responses from individual blogs.
As a student, I agree with some of Worthen's points but I disagree on others as well. Millennials as a generation grew up in a juxtaposition from analog, traditional classrooms to digital, fast-paced technology. I've certainly had my share of traditional lecture classes but I also remember when academic tools such as Smart Boards were first installed and used in our classes in middle school. Kennesaw State University has provided both of these types of classes in the four years I've attended and my personal experience with them (and the effect they've had on my education) has varied.
Let's rewind three years to my first semester at Kennesaw State. I'm in my US History class in a 200 person lecture hall. As the professor is rambling on the War of 1812, I'm furiously typing away on my laptop, trying to catch on to certain facts not found in the reading. To my right sits another freshmen, a boy who's on his laptop as well but definitely not taking notes. Instead, he has numerous tabs open on several social media sites. On top of that, he's checking his phone every few minutes. I'm stunned - the class doesn't have required attendance. Why bother showing up if you're not even going to take notes?
A sliver over an hour later, the lecture ends and as I'm slipping my laptop into its sleeve, the boy next to me asks if I can email him my class notes. Surely, he's joking, right? Was he not in the same lecture class with his laptop, with the clear ability to take notes? I scoff out a "no", before being called a derogatory term by the boy.
Except for the part where the student asks another for the lecture notes, this type of situation happens a lot. Students will bring their laptops to class only to become off task during the lecture. They want to blame their low grades on the professor, the lecture, the content, etc.
They'd allegedly learn it if it wasn't a lecture and more hands on - everybody wants to be the victim and not the one responsible.
From my experience, a few of these are valid points. Sometimes, we land a poor professor or the only one available to teach that class at that time. Some subjects are really difficult to absorb and are better being taught in a nontraditional method. But most of the time, I'd have to say that it's student.
Molly Worthen points out that in a study where science classes were changed from lectures to more hands-on teaching methods, the students' grades went up. It's easy to see why - science are is a generally more kinesthetic, concrete type of subject. The whole purpose of having science experiments and labs for those respective classes was for students to apply what they've learned in class to real life. For instance, I didn't understand physics very well until I attended the lab session, where we performed experiments of concepts we'd learned in class. In other words, it's all about the application of what you've learned.
I suppose this type of mindset could be implemented to any subject. But some subjects just can't be learned through experiments and projects. Sometimes, it's just about understanding relationships, which is what class lectures are supposed to elaborate on.
Society has become more and more dependent on technology to help us through daily tasks. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; on the contrary, I see it as an improvement. We're able to accomplish more in an efficient manner! If this is the case, then wouldn't the boy in my US History class not have to ask me for class notes that he could've taken himself? That's the downside to technology; it's distracting.
On the surface, bringing a laptop to class would be seen as a plus because you'd be able to take notes much faster. However, there's so much stuff to do on a laptop. So, it doesn't matter what type of class you're in - math, social science, English, etc. If technology is being used, there's going to be some level of distraction from the focal lesson.
My close friend of six years, Angela, attends Georgia Tech. I remember talking to her about classes in our first semester of college and was blown away at the fact that most of her professors banned laptop use in their classes. Although Angela was annoyed about this, months later into the semester, she found that she was able to learn easily by writing down the notes. It's not just her experience that proves that hand written notes are more helpful to students - there's been numerous studies that substantiate this theory as well.
Worthen also points out that lectures teach the valuable skills of comprehension, reasoning, and the art of paying attention. Out of all of these, I'd say the latter would have to be the most difficult to learn. As more technological distractions arise, people are having trouble paying attention in general. Outside of school, I see it all the time with people being on their phones at the dinner table, when they're hanging out, and watching a movie in the theater. So, naturally, this type of behavior will leak into the more professional and academic sectors of their lives. There's not a school day that goes by that I don't see a student on social media websites during a lecture. In some cases, I've seen some students watch TV and play video games while in a classroom.
When reading "Lecture Me. Really", I noticed that the mentioned professors are going out of their way to teach college students how to learn. Whenever this fails, they scramble to come up with a different method of teaching. What they're not considering is that sometimes, the student themselves are not upholding their role in the classroom.
For example, most classes specifically state and recommend that students finish the reading before class, so they can review the material in class and ask questions. I have one particular professor who requests this and even posts his skimmed version of the book notes (along with his commentary) on D2L. Now, keep in mind this is a senior level class so he has high expectations from us upperclassmen. The majority of his lectures are him asking the students about concepts from the material. So, it's obvious when his students haven't looked over the content before class because the room becomes dead silent when he asks us questions in his lectures.
What my point boils down to is there's no right or wrong method of teaching. Lectures, hands-on lessons, field trips, etc. don't take precedence over one another. Professors and students can argue all they want over which teaching method is the most efficient when really, it's contextual. As Worthen points out, lectures are supposed to connect between the facts and build an argument. Hands-on approaches are supposed to help students apply the information to real life. With these things in mind combined with effective study habits, a student should succeed academically, no matter the class type or subject. You can read the original New York Times article "Lecture Me. Really." here.