An “Argument” for the Traditional Lecture

--Originally published at Benjamin L. Stewart, PhD

Gross-Loh (2016) argues (kind of) in Should Colleges Really Eliminate the College Lecture? for the traditional lecture and greater training to professors for improving public speaking skills. I have gone through the piece and have tried to outline parts of the argument that seem incoherent, along with some perspective as well.

Traditional Lecture as an Endangered Species

The first line of reasoning the author makes is as follows:

  • R1: A lack of training exists among university professors to give good traditional lectures.
  • R2: Although there is a focus on training professors to improve teaching skills, such training focuses more on flipping the classroom (and related technologies) than on the traditional lecture.
  • C: This, in part, is why "the endangered" (para. 2).

This line of cloudy reasoning is a formal fallacy. First, saying that there is the wrong kind of teacher training which focuses on flipping the classroom does not mean there is a lack of training in the right kind of training needed to give traditional lectures in the classroom. Flipped classroom training certainly could focus on producing traditional lectures that are effective and providing these as recordings to students asynchronously. There is nothing in the piece about what kind of lectures are being recorded and how traditional (or non-traditional) these forms of lectures are within a flipped classroom approach. So, to jump to the conclusion that the lecture is "endangered" seems a stretch. Gross-Loh does go however into some level of detail about the lack of training in public speaking among professors, but because it unnecessarily contrasts the notion of a flipped classroom, it certainly seems probable that a traditional lecture (that meets the author's standards) could be recorded, produced, and made available to learners outside of the classroom experience. If the author feels that a worthwhile traditional lecture has to be delivered face to face, then this is a different argument not being made in this piece.

Getting the Question Right

Later in the article, the question is posed: " it the college lecture itself that’s the problem—or the lecturer" (para. 5)?

In problem solving, often it is about getting the problem established that becomes the intellectual exercise. Similarly, sometimes getting the question right is more important than ever being able to truly answer it. What additional insight can be made when separating the performance (i.e., the lecture) from the person (i.e., the professor)? The question in the article can be separated into two empty notions: 1) There is no problem with the professor, but the lectures are a big problem. or 2) There is no problem with the lectures, but the professor is a big problem. I do not see the need to entertain this question.

Training Means Performing Means Learning

The author states,

...although proponents of the movement to move away from the lecture cite data on its ineffectiveness, the debate has failed to take into account the fact that academics are rarely, if ever, formally trained in public speaking.

Another fallacy of sorts...Even if training automatically enables the professor to become a good public speaker, being a good public speaker does not necessarily mean an educative experience for the learners. Public speaking does not always equate to comprehensible input. This is the underlining premise that I cannot subscribe to. Learning has more to do with what the students do than what the teachers do.

The author goes on to say,

The lecture was a highlight of my own education,” Molly Worthen, a University of North Carolina (para.14).

Here, the author provides evidence of linking the traditional lecture with active learning, which seems out of place within the overall thesis of the article. In fact, this is where I asked myself, what is the main thesis of this piece? Is it that professors lack public speaking skills? Is it that professors lack the training to implement dynamic lectures that mix the traditional lecture with active learning? Should a flipped classroom approach be part of this training or not?

Flipping is Elitist

There is a lot to the concept of a ‘flipped classroom,’ but it is also very much an elite-institution idea,” says Hacsi, referring to a model in which students view lectures outside of class and focus on homework elements inside of it (para. 17).

So here the argument is that expecting students to work outside of the classroom is "elitist" because many students have to work their way through college. Thus, only the privileged few (society's greatest) who can afford to go to school and not work could ever have enough time to devote to assignments required outside of class.

As far as I know (and correct me if I am wrong), students are still required to complete course assignments outside of class. So given this assumption, if anyone fails to see how a flipped classroom provides an equitable educative experience to many (both to credit and noncredit-seeking students alike) - the polar opposite of an elitist viewpoint - then more research needs to be conducted before one chooses to write about it in any intelligible way.

This post leaves me confused as to what the overall thesis actually is. Removing any mention of the flipped classroom, I am unable to disagree with many points if presented separately. But the way the ideas are organized as a whole leaves me confused as to what the author is really getting at.

I present my views in hopes someone can shed light on the overall mean of the original post and/or my interpretation of it.

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