Opinion: Professor Dan Wylie
Lectures are strange animals. The “guru” occupies centre stage while the students lap up gems of wisdom, allegedly. It is at best inspirational, at worst dispiriting. The whole architecture of the thing encourages passivity on the part of the listeners. To become an “active listener”, able fully to take advantage of a lecture, is a skill which takes time to develop. As a lecturer, one often feels one is speaking into a void. Is anything being understood? Are the notes being taken down faithful to what you’re saying? (The evidence of writing suggests that frequently the information is garbled or misunderstood; the evidence of little spot surveys I’ve done suggests that much information never sinks in at all – and it’s not for want of clarity, either.)
In short, it’s already a flawed and generally only partially efficient medium of instruction. How much worse it is, then, when unnecessary interference occurs. Most students I find pretty good about putting cell phones off; sometimes it’s forgotten; occasionally someone is rude enough to start SMSing in mid-lecture. More frequent are instances of students whispering, or even chatting quite audibly, to one another, and not about the subject at hand. (Few lecturers resent students asking them relevant questions in mid-lecture, or asking for clarification: indeed, the feedback is important). Worst of all, some students seem to feel free to just get up and walk out, for no obvious emergency and offering no polite apology or explanation. All of these, in varying degrees, are immensely irritating to lecturers, who are not just egotists pontificating for their own benefit, but genuinely want their information to be clearly and completely conveyed to students who they genuinely want to pass at years’-end. Getting distracted, or feeling that this or that student simply doesn’t care enough about the teaching-learning process to just sit still and hear the lecture out, actively damages the lecturer’s ability to do the job.
Part of students’ training is precisely focus, attentiveness, stamina, thinking around points raised, and working even with matter that may appear at first irrelevant or dull. Yes, some lecturing can seem tedious, but there is nothing that an adequately active mind cannot make relevant or interesting. Boredom, if that’s what it is, is in the mind of the listener, nowhere else. A student’s chatting or leaving is not only deeply disrespectful to the lecturer, it is derailing the whole process of extending that student’s own learning process. It’s sometimes called shooting oneself in the foot.
Opinion: Craig Wynn
Students don’t wake up at 6:00 every morning simply buzzing with anticipation for the day’s dawnie. That just doesn’t happen. However, lectures are an essential part of being here and so we will find ourselves having to go to them once in a while. Once you’re there, though, you may suddenly realise one of many things. Firstly, you have an appointment elsewhere. Secondly, you ‘already understand it all’. Thirdly, you forgot to go to the toilet earlier or, and finally, you’re about to pass out from boredom. So, what do you do? Recent events indicate that many of us don’t think twice about simply getting up and leaving. Is there anything wrong with that? Should lecturers react? What is the appropriate reaction? What would you do? These are some of the questions put forward to students and to our expert, Professor Dan Wylie, of the English department.