Personal response to the opening Keynote of ALT-C 2010:
If he’d just said that we should get rid of bad lectures I would have agreed with him but…
It’s like the calls you hear to ban PowerPoint. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with PowerPoint, there is with bad PowerPoint presentations. Similarly, a call to get rid of lecturers is simply missing the point. We’ve probably all had a bad meal in a restaurant, we didn’t call for a ban on restaurants… or eating.
The only good reasons to stop lectures would be 1) because they do no good/do harm or 2) because we have something better. This morning we were not offered evidence of the first (disappointing as the scientific method was mentioned by the speaker) or ideas for the second (simply saying ‘doing more online’ does not count.)
Lecturing (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way) is varied, because the people who lecture vary, as do the students and courses. You may have had a bad experience as an undergraduate, my experience as a physics undergraduate was a good one; let’s call it quits.
I’d like to suggest the speaker actually takes a look at what is going on in lectures today, rather than reach back for a memory of his undergraduate days. It is pointless to say you are angry at a situation but have no real ideas for remedies. Find out what’s going on and you will see what today’s lecturers are doing with their lectures. You’ll find (even physics) lecturers who know about cognitive overload and working memory, and ones carrying on Mazur’s work. There’s still work to do but that’s what the Centre I work with support. Let’s stop cursing the darkness and light a candle.
And last but not least: physics researchers should not teach because they would be ‘square pegs in round holes’ hopelessly held back by introversion and lack of social skills? Feynman managed both very well, Brian Cox isn’t doing too badly either. There are others less well known if you care to look; I will be meeting some of them immediately after ALT-C at our physics education conference. It’s called PHEC*; we may have no social skills but it can’t be said we have no sense of humour.
*Physics Higher Education Conference