DEBATE: Lectures are a waste of students’ time

Stevie Hertz 6 November 2016

Lectures. Possibly the worst way both to teach and be taught. The tension in the room as fingers speed across keys and people frantically scribble down the words of the lecturer whilst simultaneously trying to listen and understand the concepts being explained. And that is assuming it is a decent lecture with a small element of structure and form.

Many a lecture will have the most basic of PowerPoints to support the droning of a professor reading from a flimsy piece of paper. Undoubtedly, the people giving these lectures are highly intelligent, often experts in the subject, however unfortunately, this does not mean that they are capable of explaining their complex research in a mere hour’s lecture. 
Furthermore should they even be required to do this? As academics, the idea of reducing their intricate research into a base form simple enough to teach to students is potentially offensive. So perhaps it is no surprise that so many do not do this, and instead overwhelm students with long words and complex theories that they cannot possibly absorb in the crowded, steamy lecture halls.

From the perspective of a student it can often seem a waste of time attending a lecture, especially when the same information could have been obtained much more easily from a book. Moreover, as an arts student it is not unheard of to attend a lecture which offers little to no material that is not in the most basic of secondary texts. The order of lectures rarely coincides with the topics covered in supervisions and the essays written in arts subjects, leaving students scrabbling for two month old notes and hazy memories when they are questioned on the lecture by a supervisor.

Consequently it is not surprising that many students feel they can achieve more work in the time of a lecture by self-study. Not to mention the essay deadline days. Any lecture that falls on those days can be written off completely, there simply is not time in the day to risk wasting time in a lecture. Maintaining concentration and focus in a mind numbingly boring lecture can be a challenge at the best of times, let alone when you have been up late the night before and still groggy in your 9am. Sometimes you know when a lecture is irrelevant, or being given by somebody you simply cannot understand, and at university level, making lectures compulsory would only waste students’ time. Students should have the option to be responsible for their learning and therefore attend the contact hours which they view as beneficial.

Lectures don’t bring out the best in university, but rather its worst; professors are at their most inaccessible and the information is at its most irrelevant. We do not pay our student fees for contact time, but rather for an education; if this is better with a book, embrace it.

Read the second half of our debate on whether lectures should be compulsory here.