Magazine article Times Higher Education

Informative Stand-Up Guys

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Informative Stand-Up Guys

Article excerpt

My claim that the lecture remains justifiably at the heart of university education is rejected by Graham Gibbs in his rather condescending appeal to authority, in which he compares me (along with other sceptical academics) to ill-informed students who "spout nonsense" and appear as if their "corpus callosum has been severed" ("Split-brain scholarship", 12 December 2013).

Unfortunately for him, research attempts to "scientifically" establish the inherent inferiority (or superiority) of any particular pedagogical approach are unlikely to succeed.

For a start, such approaches are impossible to clearly define: for example, when does a "lecture" incorporating interactive elements become a "workshop"? Further, the individual qualities of the "lecturer" present a large set of confounding variables, as does the nature of the students - the course they are studying, the specific topic, their own personal attributes and so on. Given this complexity, claims that unambiguous and generalisable cause-effect relations can be established between modes of pedagogy and their effectiveness amount to little more than pseudoscience.

Of course, poor-quality lectures are frequently encountered by students and this is to be regretted; however, low-quality pedagogy is certainly not the preserve of the lecture. By contrast, excellent lectures not only educate in a narrow sense, but can be truly inspirational, too. I have had the privilege of attending "sell-out" public lectures by Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan; most of their audiences appeared to be greatly inspired by the experience. …

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