Lectures are still pedagogically valuable to students, vice-chancellor argues

Prof Sally Mapstone – who was a lecturer in medieval English language and literature – said ‘the lecture’ was an “evolutionary survivor”

Traditional lectures are “pedagogically, as well as culturally, valuable to students”, a vice-chancellor has argued.

Prof Sally Mapstone, the vice-chancellor of St Andrews University, told the Quality Assurance Agency annual conference that, in her opinion, the one-hour-style lecture would remain relevant to higher education, terming it an “evolutionary survivor”.

Mapstone said lectures gave students critical listening skills and merited defence from those who argue they are redundant in the modern, technologically-enhanced model of teaching and learning that expanded during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I want to challenge the notion that this is a kind of authoritarian and conservative position
– Prof Sally Mapstone, University of St Andrews

Prof Mapstone was joined at the conference by the vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds, Prof Simone Buitendijk, who argued the contrary, saying universities “need to move away from the lecture as the prime source of teaching”.

“It’s not the way to learn how to actually use facts,” Buitendijk continued. “We need to move towards teaching that is much more multidisciplinary, more group work and more resembling of real-life. We really need to think of our universities very differently.”

Mapstone – who was a lecturer in medieval English language and literature – defended the relevance of the lecture.

“Those, like me, who believe in the value and the future of the lecture, embrace it in a range of forms,” said Mapstone, arguing that the lecture was not a “static” form of education and could “refresh and restyle” to stay relevant. Solutions for renewal could include a flipped approach where lectures are consumed in solitude and discussed in group sessions, she said.

“I want to challenge the notion that this is a kind of authoritarian and conservative position,” she said. “This kind of experience supports students by giving them an important opportunity to develop the highly transferable skill of critical listening.” Prof Mapstone said these skills were crucial to the arts and humanities – and noted that most St Andrew’s students had consumed lectures in one go, as opposed to in chunks, according to data collected by the university.


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