Ace class secretary (and experienced teacher) Russ Werkman ’88 sent in these comments on my proposal to eliminate lectures at Williams.

Just read your op -ed. Interesting that Mr. Shapiro called the idea of eliminating lectures “stupid”. However..

My knee jerk response to your article is, “Oh, of course. Discussions are much better and more effective.” This is something that I think about a lot as a high school teacher. In planning classes, I try to come up with ways to present information that will engage the participants as much as possible. At the same time, I am aware that students need to develop the skills to cull important information from a variety of presentations. I wonder if the woman you mention, who must have attended a prep school to have such small classes throughout, is as prepared for the “real world” as someone who has had to sit through a lecture and take notes. In my experience, much of the information given in the working worlds (corporate, education, government, blue collar, white collar…. any way you choose to categorize them) is given through lectures.

I recently attended an educational conference which was split between keynote and small group sessions. The keynote speeches were, obviously, given to the entire group of attendees. Even in the small groups, the bulk of the information was communicated through lecture. Yes, there were questions and answers. Yes, there were short discussion sessions. However, to participate intelligently in the Q&A and discussions, I had to be able to understand and synthesize the information from the lectures (and handouts which, as you point out, are another effective way of passing specific information to large groups.)

So, while I agree that discussions are the best way to render information as useful to individuals (and I use the word “render” in the sense of “to extract the impurities from” or “to process”), I believe that it is important to teach students to do the same from a lecture. It is a skill they will need as they progress in the work of life.

Just a thought. Thanks for making me think about it.

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