The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Pedagogical query

August 26, 2013

Happy first day of Fall classes, at least at my university. A question for discussion:

Is there any value whatsoever to a live lecture delivered in front of large numbers of students, given that podcasting is now sufficiently easy and ubiquitous that anyone with a laptop or a smartphone (or a digital voice recorder or camcorder) or access to those devices via a campus IT services department can do it?

I would appreciate it if we could have this discussion without appealing to any mystical or metaphysical “connection” that mysteriously arises in a live lecture hall. What, if anything, is the practical difference between watching a lecturer gesticulating at the front of the room (perhaps through the opera glasses that one needs to make out any distinguishing facial features of the lecturer at a distance) and catching the same show in the privacy of one’s own dorm room via YouTube or iTunesU or whatever? I mean, I go to concerts to appreciate the performance, not to feel mystically at one with the band. Nor can I say that I learn much from the experience, which is fine because I am not shelling out money to see Yes or Marillion or the Vienna Philharmonic play live in order to learn something. I am going for the show, and to enjoy myself, probably (given my tastes in music) in the company of other crazy fans…so the atmosphere is the experience, and essential to it. But for receiving information from someone knowledgeable? Not sure I see the point of theater seating or a mosh pit there.


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Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is Professor of International Studies in the School of International Service, and also Director of the AU Honors program. He was formerly Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of International Relations and Development, and is currently Series Editor of the University of Michigan Press' book series Configurations: Critical Studies of World Politics.