Death of the Lecture?

Criticisms of the much-maligned lecture are often summarized by the anonymous quote (usually misattributed to Mark Twain), that;

 “College is a place where a professor’s lecture notes go straight to the students’ lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either.”

Certainly diatribes directed at the perceived defects of lecture instruction abound ( Is the lecture merely an antiquated instructional method from medieval days when scholars read manuscripts to students so they could copy into their notebooks germane content from original sources? Or, is the lecture truly a valuable tool in the repertoire of the skilled instructor? The producers of “Ted Talks” ( have clearly identified a community of  enthusiastic “students” eager to “attend” lectures on a wide variety of topics. What is the place of the lecture in the academy of the 21st century? Assuredly a superior lecture far out-weighs a substandard webpage, a dispirited discussion, or an execrable podcast. A quality lecture presentation provides

  • focus on essential content, knowledge, and understanding
  • expert insight and explanation of subject matter
  • shared learning experiences with a cohort of peers
  • discourse with discipline experts
  • interpretation of content based on research and expertise
  • modelling of a disciplinary approach and perspective
  • critical framework and overview of a topic or subject
  • familiarization with the language and discourse of a discipline
  • personalization of learning through note-taking
  • foundation concepts, precepts, and paradigms


But, the critics will iterate, students may attend but will not pay attention to a 50 minute lecture. Not so! Watch and listen to Naomi Wolf, speaking on “The End of America” at the University of Lethbridge, hold an audience of over 200 enrapt for 58 minutes without any PowerPoint slides, video, group discussion, or other distractions:

Does the lecture live? Undoubtedly! Is it the only teaching tool available to post-secondary instructors? Certainly not! Are there “bad” lectures? Yes. But there are unquestionably also abominable class discussions, online assignments, discussion forums, group projects, laboratory activities, and tutorials. A well-planned, well-structured, and well-delivered lecture can be an essential component of the design and delivery of an exemplary university course.