Mark Solan ’88 had these comments on our recent discussion about lectures at Williams:

Listening to you and George go at it in the Blog is a little too reminiscent of our time together in a suite in Carter House. While I kept my mouth shut back then, I feel obligated to contribute this, now-
Am I remembering this correctly: in Art 101, did we not have large lectures, then split into smaller, classroom-size groups for further discussion and pop quizzes? I agree with Dr. Phil that there are times when students want the luxury of being able to simply download information, and with George that there are certain subjects that lend themselves, at least initially, to the ability to be simply downloaded. Basic calculus functions and pictures of Majas (both clothed and naked, thank you very much) fall into this category. My own ideas about art and its function weren’t created in the lecture hall, but in the smaller classes over in that wacky Charles Moore building with a handful of other students, an Art History prof and the occasional TA, or Eph version thereof. In my experience, the lecture provided the information, and the class provided the discussion.
On another level, the lecture examination schedule provided another way of fostering student interaction: how many of us studied for the tests in groups, sharing notes, discussing the lecture points and even acting out the pictures and sculptures? I know it is impossible for me to view any of the Renaissance ‘Davids’ without thinking of Blake Robison and Nick Beatty’s beautiful portrayals. Blake also had a remarkable gift for impersonating the entry arches of Gothic cathedrals…

Comments:

1) Mark is certainly correct that ARTH 101/102 featured large lectures (3 a week?) along with a weekly discussion section. The structure is the same today.

2) The benefits (or lack thereof) of exams is a separate issue from class structure. Even in a (better) world in which ART 101/102 was taught completely in small classes, nothing would prevent the Art History Department from having exams, even the same sorts of exams that they have today. Indeed, I would argue that this is the best way to do things. You want the department as a whole to decide what topics will be covered and to determine how much learning has occurred. But you also want to maximize the educational value of the class and it seems obvious (to me) that this is best done in small classes.

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