Violeta Ruiz Almendral: Can we save the traditional lecture? (on the value of teaching)

In today’s post, Violeta Ruiz Almendral, Associated Professor of Tax Law at the Carlos III University and Attorney at the Spanish Constitutional Court, sheds light on the value of “traditional” lectures. I fully share her views. Many thanks for your inspiring contribution, Violeta!

“Is the traditional lecture about to disappear? Will the future do without teaching as we know it? 

In the past decade, a myriad of new teaching techniques have fundamentally transformed how classes are prepared, taught and even how content is evaluated.

In Spain, this digital transformation, or even “revolution” has coincided with the so-called “Bolonia reforms”, an entire new legal framework which, among other, also foster a different approach to teaching.

The idea of offering free Massive Open Online Course, (MOOC) has taken flight in a moment where access to high-speed access to the Internet is also increasing, and may become ever more popular with the recent increase in tuition fees in Spain (and pretty much everywhere).

The arrival of new electronic devices, namely the tablets (iPads, kindle fire and the like), has also help the development of yet new teaching tools, in the form of “Education apps” which, some claim, is even transforming how toddlers think (not without controversy: see http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/08/07/benefit-of-mobile-apps-for-toddlers-questioned/2628593/ – http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/08/07/benefit-of-mobile-apps-for-toddlers-questioned/2628593/), and so may do the same with University students.

An online teaching and learning obsession, you could say.

And yet, old-fashioned lecturing is not out of fashion. Quite the opposite, if you see how successful good lectures are in terms of viewers. The TED talks are a good example. Here’s one of my favorites by the way, on how stress may not actually be bad for you, unless you think it is: (here: http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend.html), but you can find many on education, here:

 http://www.ted.com/promos/TEDTalksEducation

But looking, or rather, viewing, these lectures, one thought pop-ups: is this really new?

Sure, the format (online video) is new, newer still if you happen to look at it on your iPad.

However, is the content really new?

Not really. If you think about it, they are probably no different –apart from language and the fact that there are many women lectures- than they would have been 200 years ago.

So while we strive to make sense out of this revolution, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the content side: the actual teaching and the role of the old lecture.

This was the objective of a recent article published a few days ago at The Atlantic (titled: Don’t Give Up on the Lecture, here: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/11/dont-give-up-on-the-lecture/281624/). It revolves around an idea that I have actually experienced as a student, and seen later on, as a University Professor: the idea that teaching can go far beyond conveying a certain amount of information. That teaching can also inspire, and that the traditional Lecture still plays a fundamental role in education, that teachers can, and should, be not only coaches, and inspirational figures, but role model.

The passive role of students attending lectures may not be so passive after all.

Now for that to happen, a fundamental condition must be met: the teacher, Professor, lecturer, has to be good. Good at knowing but she is talking about, and most of all, good at communicating it.

Only then will all the benefits of a lecture kick in. This is a challenge in Spain, where we do lack an “oral tradition”. We teach reading and writing, but do we teach speaking out in public? Probably not. But we should.

Teaching is valuable (see this: http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21587784-good-teachers-have-surprisingly-big-impact-their-pupils-future) and the lecture is not dead. But we have to be really good at it.

Violeta Ruiz Almendral

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