Lecture

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A lecture is a presentation on a particular subject given in order to teach people about that subject, for example by a university or college teacher. Lectures are used to convey critical information, history, background, theories and equations. Usually the lecturer will stand at the front of the room, in front of the class, and present the information relevant to the lecture's content.

Though lectures are much critisised, universities have not yet found practical alternative teaching methods for the large majority of their courses. Critics see lecturing as a one-way method of communication, which does not involve significant audience participation. But lectures have nevertheless survived in academia, mainly as a quick, cheap and efficient way of introducing large numbers of students to a particular field of study.

The noun "lecture" dates from 14th century, meaning "action of reading, that which is read," from the Latin lectus, pp. of legere "to read." Its subsequent meaning as "a discourse on a given subject before an audience for purposes of instruction" is from the 16th century. The verb "to lecture" is attested from 1590. In British English and several other languages the noun "lecture" must grammatically be the object of the verb "to read."

The practice in the Medieval university was for the instructor to read from an original source to a class of students who took notes on the lecture. The reading from original sources evolved into the reading of glosses on an original and then more generally to lecture notes. Throughout much of history, the diffusion of knowledge via handwritten lecture notes was an essential element of academic life.

Even in the twentieth century the lecture notes taken by students, or prepared by a thinker for a lecture, have sometimes achieved wide circulation (see, for example, the genesis of Ferdinand de Saussure's Cours de linguistique générale). Many professors were, and are, accustomed to actually reading out from their own notes for exactly that purpose. Nevertheless, modern lectures generally incorporate additional activities, e.g. writing on a chalk-board, exercises, class questions and discussions, or student presentations.

The use of multimedia presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint has changed the form of lectures, e.g. video, graphics, websites, or prepared exercises may be included. Most commonly, however, only outlines composed of "bullet points" are presented. Critics contend that this style of lecture bombards the audience (as critics such as Edward Tufte put it) with unnecessary and possibly distracting or confusing graphics. Others simply think this form of lecture is non-spontaneous and boring.

Other forms

Image:Cambridge lecture.jpg Many university courses relying on lectures supplement them with smaller discussion sections or laboratory experiment sessions as a means of further actively involving students. Often these supplemental sections are led by graduate students, Teaching Assistants or Teaching Fellows rather than senior faculty. Those other forms of academic teaching include discussion (recitation if conducted by a Teaching Assistant ), seminars, workshops, observation, practical application, case examples/case study, experiental learning/active learning, computer-based instruction and tutorials.

In schools the prevalent mode of student-teacher interaction is lessons.

Quote

"Lectures," said McCrimmon, "are our most flexible art form. Any idea, however slight, can be expanded to fill fifty-five minutes; any idea, however great, can be condensed to that time. And if no ideas are available, there can always be discussion. Discussion is the vacuum that fills a vacuum. If no one comes to your lectures or seminars, you can have a workshop and get colleagues involved. They have to come, and your reputation as an adequately popular teacher is saved." (John Kenneth Galbraith, A Tenured Professor)

See also

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