If Only My Professor Was John Stewart Or Bill Nye, Lectures Would Be Interesting


The image of a professor lecturing and a parent reprimanding are eerily similar. Spit flies through the air in slow motion, the face contorts, and the drone of a distant voice burns a path straight over my head. Now, I am an avid appreciator of a quality monologue. But the number of professors who can consistently provide an entertaining speech and give me my tuition’s worth of information: miniscule. It would be unfair to expect them to because those same skills make John Stewart and Bill Nye millionaires.

Graduate school isn’t selective enough to support the lecture format that dominates classrooms. The final test to earn a PhD involves presenting one’s thesis in front of a panel of professors, but for most of the process, graduate students are the learner or researcher, not the teacher. They are caught in an endless cycle of professors teaching professors. When a psychology professor tells a biology professor that images help capture student’s attention, Dr. Bio mistakenly puts Clipart onto his slides, thinking the image of a frog in a pond will revolutionize his speech. When a mathematics major has fond memories of musing over math theories while lounging in Starbucks with his mentor, he uses class time trying to facilitate a lively theoretical debate with students just trying to fulfill a Gen Ed. When a newly robed professor enters the college classroom, she has sweated, cried, and likely gone into deep debt over a specialized topic, and now she is faced with a room full of people who will not get her nerdy jokes. It’s a wonder there isn’t a movement of fanatic professors calling for the right to not teach.

However, part of the fault for the lecture hall situation falls on students. After 18 years, they managed to graduate high school by mastering the traditional classroom. Their own educational history seems to prove they should sit back and treat college like high school. Now they are expected to take control of their own education, but it is much easier to let the university shepherd them along. They can check a box and off they go down the engineering track, like a package in Amazon’s warehouse, with their schedule laid out, businesses giving out free t-shirt to lure them into unpaid labor – excuse me, internships – and holiday cards waiting to announce their first job. A dismally small number of college students have the resources, confidence, and foresight to attempt to break out of the lecture box, resulting in silent classrooms with “distracted and disengaged students” (Morris). Our own small group in DCC kept being tempted to just use the lecture technique when designing our experiential learning exercise.

Those students and professors who step out of the lecture stereotypes may be the very ones who re-invent the lecture. As Morris states, “A person is not transformed by the mere exchange of knowledge.” There must form a two-way channel of teaching between student and professor, and leave old fashioned lecturing to the few who master it. Both the learner and teacher must avoid succumbing to the Siren call of the rigid lecture format. Then, school will be fun again.

(response to http://dcc.umd.edu/portfolio/jmorris/2015/09/25/ed-u-ca-tion-a-definition/)