Much has been written about the value of lectures: It is not clear whether they will endure, or if instead they are dated and doomed. Either way though I don’t see them going away any time soon. While the lecture has remained core in many universities, we know that lecture content (i.e. higher level knowledge) has gone from being underpinned by privileged information locked down within the academic community, to in many cases nothing more than ‘stuff’ that might be gleaned in a decent web search. How many colleagues Google source at least some of their content (be honest now!)?
The nature of knowledge has changed rapidly, but still the main mode of operation for ‘oh so many’ courses is transmission. When I hear others say ‘why would students come to lectures if there is … no assessment incentive … when there is lecture capture …or, when there are full notes on the virtual learning environment’, I can’t help feeling it’s the wrong question. We don’t want to dupe students in to coming to lectures by denying these beneficial actions just to sustain the status quo; this is a defensive approach, which devalues the time of students and the professionalism of lecturers. Instead it is perhaps better to ask ‘why would students come to class at all?’ What are we offering that is good enough and useful enough for students to want come along and engage?
There are clear synergies between higher education and contemporary trends in music. Commercial music, like knowledge, has gone from a prized product, to being cheap and accessible, and then to being free and abundant. Artists are succeeding by not holding on the old modes of distributing, but by making their product open and available, to whet the appetite of fans who will then travel, pay and commit time to go to the live event; to share an experience and share in something which cannot be consumed by other means. Often the benefits of live events lie in the way they make you feel rather than in a quantifiable outcome.
I am advising colleagues who are new to teaching to ‘find their rockstar’. This doesn’t mean becoming an edutainer; which I take issue with as it trivializes scholarship. It rather means locating the reasons that make the live coming together of people to learn, a valuable and meaningful experience. If the transmission mode is used, then what extra does the live performance add? When I watch a band the value for me is ‘feeling’ the bass, making memories and being part of an audience. When I watch a speaker, I enjoy the focus, the interaction and the stories, which feel like they are told for the specific audience.
When asked by a researcher, who is new to teaching, what is my ‘rockstar’ and how do I find it? My answer … you already have it …
‘your unpublished and ongoing research’
‘your empathy with the students you truly appreciate their angst because a similar experience is not so far in your own past’
‘your calm and considered outlook coupled with boundless enthusiasm that makes your content far richer than any download’ (your newness means your passion is undiminished). This can be felt by those around you; it can’t be measured’.
If I think about brilliant lecturers they all have their own attributes that make attendance worthwhile – these are always not displays of radical teaching or ‘fizz-bomb’ personalities; but there is always something more than transmission. Examples include anecdotes, stories, empathy, humour, and enthusiasm, and research. Rather than assume students are disengaged we should make sure when they come to class they have something more than a download… it’s potentially a useful, confidence generating staff development reflection to #FindYourRockstar.