The surprising surge in popularity for TED Talks, Podcasts, and popular intellectuals / writers/ former professors selling out live venues in America and abroad (pre-pandemic) makes use wonder if the lecture isn’t dead, and may have a second act.
The Idea of the Lecture
I currently work for an educational technology company, worked as a teacher for many years, have a daughter in middle school, and work as a freelance writer specializing in educational content. One of my favorite courses as an undergraduate was “The Philosophy of Education,” an upper-level philosophy course taught by a wonderful professor I had taken a year earlier in a lower-level History of Western Philosophy survey course.
We traced some of the major philosophical underpinnings of Western education: from Plato’s Republic to John Newman’s “The Idea of the University” to Rousseau and Dewey’s works. Dr. Robert Mulvaney, who passed away a few years ago after many decades at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, unfortunately, walked in for every class and delivered the most engaging and extemporaneous talks about what we were assigned to read and beyond. He would pause thoughtfully to emphasize an important point — and ask for our thoughts. He made brilliant connections between some of these seemingly archaic texts to the world we lived in.
I try to keep an above-average understanding of all things related to education and EdTech. Before the pandemic became a reality last March, a headline piqued my interest from The Guardian: “The Netflixisation of academia: is this the end for university lectures?”
Of course, this is nothing new. The lecture has been in decline for a long time as schools and colleges in America, baffled in part by the declining academic success of their students and shifting sources of funding, have responded with data that suggests that students learn better when they participate in their learning rather than passively listening or taking notes for later reflection. The proliferation of online classes has also hastened the death of the “lecture” — a tradition for transmitting knowledge that goes back at least 800 years (Norm Frieson, 2011).
Ancient Educational Origins
One thinks of the peripatetic school of philosophy in the golden age of ancient Greece where Socrates walked the dusty streets of Athens corrupting the youth of the city with his clever axioms and nuggets of wisdom that Plato captured in his famous dialogues and Aristotle wrote about in his diverse writings.
While these ancient “lectures” were obviously much different from those being delivered in today’s classroom, in a sense, the practice formed the foundation for much of Western education. Plato’s created his Academy, and this is considered by some to be the first semblance of a college in the Western World. Aristotle later formed his on school, the Lyceum, and stole all of Plato’s students by charging less (I used to joke with my students).
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