Wednesday, January 13, 2010

University lectures, yesterday, today, and tomorrow


University lectures began in the 12th century, when the first European universities evolved in certain centers of learning. "Lectures" involved professors (called "masters") reading and commenting on key books which were often in that pre-printing era unavailable to students.

Lectures in their original form have long been obsolete, and over the years there have been no shortage of people saying that live lectures should be replaced by something else -- TV lectures as were tried at my alma mater, Michigan State University 40-some years ago, online lectures, computerized interactive this and that, all in the name of greater efficiency and lower costs and the general trendiness of being on the cutting edge.

This has always rung false for me. Of course even the best lectures have their limitations, and being a "best lecturer" takes work and talent, but I've always believed that lecturing adds something to the learning experience that you might not get otherwise.

Today, over at the medieval group blog In the Middle Jeffrey Cohen expressed what I feel about this issue by describing his goals and the successful first day of one of his classes this term:

As I explained to my 90 undergraduates in "Myths of Britain" yesterday, being truly present is a commitment both teacher and students must make in order for a class to thrive. We've become accustomed to the solitude of checking email on an iPhone rather than being aware of the world moving around us, so to have 75 minutes as a community is a gift that ought not to be squandered. I spoke about my syllabus's Code of Courtesy at ITM recently. Its objective, I explained to my students as I introduced it, is to give us the moments of intense togetherness that we can't have if people are walking in and out of the room, texting, chatting with a neighbor. All I ask them to give to me and to each other is the commitment I give to them.

So far so good. I was nervous about my first class because I hadn't been in front of a room of students since last April. Keeping 90 restless adolescents interested is also a considerable challenge. But I walked out of the room happy, if exhausted: they have already proven themselves eager conversationalists. Something about my emphasizing their obligation to disagree with or at least question me skeptically seems to have resonated well.
I found it inspiring!

Image: medieval students hearing a "lecture." None of them are texting or surfing, but some seem to be sleeping or just talking.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Will McLean provides some medieval content...


...in the form of some interesting links to resources on medieval childhood and education.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

How can you tell that Barack Obama has been a university professor?

From a New York Times interview:

I want to emphasize, though, that part of the challenge is making sure that folks are getting in high school what they need as well. You know, I use my grandmother as an example for a lot of things, but I think this is telling. My grandmother never got a college degree. She went to high school. Unlike my grandfather, she didn’t benefit from the G.I. Bill, even though she worked on a bomber assembly line. She went to work as a secretary. But she was able to become a vice president at a bank partly because her high-school education was rigorous enough that she could communicate and analyze information in a way that, frankly, a bunch of college kids in many parts of the country can’t. She could write —

Interviewer: Today, you mean?

Today. She could write a better letter than many of my — I won’t say “many,” but a number of my former students at the University of Chicago Law School.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

From Paleo-Future: Anachronisms of the Future

The unique blog Paleo-Future has a news article from 1911 about a phenomenon that teaching historians and sharp-eyed filmgoers are now experiencing on a regular basis!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

From Explorator, May 2007

I have on occasion recommended the long-standing resource Explorator, an e-mail newsletter on archaeology and ancient history that comes out most Sundays. I often find the most amazing stuff there.

This past weekend had two topics that amazed me. One was out of Norway, where someone last August, high in the mountains, found a leather shoe in a snowdrift. First opinions were that it was a thousand years old!

Wrong!

They now think it is 3400 years old!

More searching of the ground led to finding arrows and a wooden spade.

Fallout from global warming?

Explorator also pointed me to a story from Britain, where the A-level exam in Ancient History was on the chopping block. That would mean that what North Americans call high school students could no longer specialize in that topic. Fans of ancient history fought back and won the day. One thing that helped is that they won the sympathy of the cabinet minister in charge of schools, who sits in the Lords. His title is Lord Adonis.

How could they lose with divinity intervening for the cause?

Image: A terra-cotta "Dying Adonis" from the second or third century BC.

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