Extroverted introspectionThe lecture is dead, long live the lecture!


Well, isn't that a provocative and clickbaity title! In actuality, I don't really think the lecture is dead, but, given the chance, I would prefer to kill it. Thus, in my efforts to rationalise this blood­lust, I have collected arguments why I think it's a good idea for universities to abandon the traditional lecture format in favour of new, video-based, teaching. And I am not alone in my desire for a lethal injection.

Traditionally, the teacher holds lectures in front of a black­board, where the one that knows about it tells the ones that don't. Information and skills are thus communicated from teacher to student, and the students are introduced to the content of the course. The suggested change is to record this lecture in a video format—not necessarily as a blackboard presentation—and publish it on the internet for free and public access (read: publish it on YouTube).

First, let me add an escape hatch to the argumentation. My area of study is theoretical physics, which is a technical subject were acquiring skill for mathematical reasoning is a main focus. I have set up these arguments with my own learning situation as a guide. Thus I believe these arguments are applicable for any "hard science", but when subjects differ a lot in its fundamental character (e.g. creative subjects), some of the arguments may not apply.

— Alright, let's get on with it.

#1—The argument from transparency. Wouldn't it be great if you could evaluate courses before actually taking them? You could quickly identify that lecturer who is not well suited to your learning style, and take that particular course at some other university. Also, for anyone considering higher education, you could compare the quality between different universities before choosing where to study. Such transparency between universities would create healthy competition, and incentivise the whole academic system towards increasing the quality of education. Maybe we would even start seeing academic careers based on teaching merits.

#2—The argument from debt. The university, as an institution, collects money from the people for the purpose of extending and deepening human understanding. A core idea is to improve the lives of the people being educated—sure!—but also to better the lives for any citizen, whether or not they are interested in physically taking part in any of the university activities. Given such premises, I argue for the following consequence: If universities have an opportunity to increase or improve the sharing of information with its citizens, the institution should possess good reasons if it omits to do so.

#3—The argument from individuality. Everyone learns differently, and we all have different background knowledge—especially in the beginning of a course. If a lecture is recorded you can hit the pause button as soon as you are presented with anything you don't immediately understand. Then make further investigations, or rewind and watch the last 10 minutes again. Perhaps you weren't really paying attention?

#4—The counterargument concerning teacher-student interaction. A common argument against video lectures is the lack of interaction between student and teacher. So in other words: The students can't ask any questions! This is a very important point, however, there are of course technical solutions to this problem that enables the students to pause the lecture, and write a question at a particular timestamp. Later, the teacher can meet up with the students and address the questions. I have personal experience from using such a system, and my conclusion is that it actually promotes better, more insightful, questions.

#5—The argument from improved learning. Abandoning the lecture format does not mean that interaction between teacher and students should be removed, or even decreased. Instead, use the time previously set for lectures for other activities. Solve problems, discuss questions, let the teacher actually tutor the students in their own efforts. I am convinced that the best learning happens when students own thought process is deeply involved in the activity.

#6—The counterargument to lack of time. Ok, fine!—you might say—but we don't have enough time or resources to overhaul an entire teaching system. However, this argument has an obvious weakness. A tran­sition like this can be done continuously, and slowly. Mix some recorded lectures with traditional methods, or even include a few recorded lectures from other authors. Then, next year, you can take further steps towards a teaching model based on publicly available video-lectures.

Ultimately—even if these arguments are acceptable—to determine the success of a teaching model, one should weigh benefits of that model against any possible loss due to increase in workload. Probably the only way to conclusively answer this question is to run the experiment.