Long live the lecture

July 4, 1997

JOHN WAKEFORD's view that the lecture has had its day needs qualifying (THES, June ). It is not that the skills of rhetoric or oratory are dead, but that the communication forms in which they are placed have changed.

So too, necessarily, have students' expectations about the learning experience.

Should all forms of communication have to match soundbite conversation or tabloid paragraphing; or offer "interactive opportunity" and audiovisual variety; or be restricted to email-tolerable lengths? Look at pub or street conversation or broadcast interviewing - count the interruptions and the repartee. It would do us all some good if the patience to listen calmly to a sustained argument were restored.

It is not that the lecture is a bad educational medium. It is the way the lecture is over-used, given changes in the cultural backcloth. Lectures would retain their value if they were not too frequent and if they were special events. I can recall many lectures I attended in the late 1960s because of their celebratory nature. I have forgotten many more since because they lacked this magic.

Lectures need never be used for merely transmitting information.

But there is nothing like the lecture for developing the grand view, for conveying the sense of conceptual breakthrough, for inspiring enthusiasm, or for observing the "trained mind in action". If creative writing can be taught, then so too can creative speaking.

Indeed, one of those celebratory lectures was given by your regular back-page columnist Laurie Taylor. I still had the notes to that lecture until recently - five lines! But I have remembered the "message" for nearly 30 years. There is nothing wrong with lectures per se, though there may be much wrong with lecturers.

Ron Iphofen

Lecturer in sociology

Faculty of health studies

University of Wales, Bangor

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