I agree with both Marcy and Cathy that the first step is to try to do
something about ridiculous class size. But that is not really
addressing Bob's question; rather, it's proceeding from an unexamined
premise that lectures are to be avoided at all costs. He's asked us to
examine that premise, not just replicate it, and I think it would do us
all a lot of good to do so.
Part of the depth of feeling against lecture may result from what we
teach. If you are teaching writing, there really isn't much to lecture
about, since writing is such a hand's on skill and is so
contenxtualized--every different student writing every different
project on every different day needs different advice. Some advice
about writing is probably generalizable, but so little that it's not
really worth it. So a lecture to 200 students about writing can't be
much more than advice on grammar, standard formats, etc., which are not
necessarily totally useless but seldom worth the time.
BUT... we should not get the idea that, because lectures don't teach
much about how to write, they don't teach much about anything. I teach
a course on the history of media to 100 students. There's a lot of
information in that course, and some of that information is better
delivered in multiple channels...ie in a lecture as well as readings.
Most people learn in different ways, and even a monologic lecture is
different from a monologic print text and augments understanding.
Second, there are lectures and lectures. We tend to use a straw-man
definition of lecture with an image of a prof droning on and on and on
and students dutifully writing things down that could have been printed
out and faxed to them and save everyone the trouble. But when I
"lecture," I can have various dialogues with various members of the
100 students. I can stop for tem minutes and give them little group
tasks and get them to report back. I don't walk around the classroom
very much because the damn thing has rows of benches I can't get
through, but it's only four rows deep so I can walk up to the class,
eyeball them and actually talk *with* them about stuff. I can give
them lab work to do which they bring in and trade around. Etc etc etc.
Active learning, in other words.
Third, there is a philosophical objection to lecture which comes from
Vygostky by Bruffee with a little Bakhtin on the side that says
everything is dialogic in principle so everything must be dialogic in
literal fact. But we seem okay with reading long stretches of print
which are dialogic only to the extent that we talk back to them in our
heads, place them next to other texts and prior knowledge and all that
stuff. I don't see why students can't be seen to be doing similar
things with a lecture--ie. doing "dialogic" reads on it even through
they are not talking or doing anything physically at the moment. Of
course some lectures encourage these dialogic moments and others don't,
but the Burkean parlour does not preclude some patches of relatively
lengthy conversational turns--say 50 minutes or so.
So I don't think that we have to write off the lecture in which the
prof talks somewhat more than the students do. It has its time and
place and style, its good ways of doing and bad ways of doing like
everything else. It's just that what most of us teach most of the time
doesn't work very well in this format.
All that being said, I still fight like the devil to keep my classes
down, and sometimes even succeed. When I do, I have a better
Now will someone tell me why so-called experts in rhetoric so often go
to conferences and read a 40-minute paper verbatim in twenty minutes?
And why conference organizers then supply a respondant to use up any
remaining dialogue time so the audience never gets a chance to utter a
peep? Now *that's* monologic!