Lessons in Lecturing


What happens in a lecture hall?

What else, but lecturers lecturing to the lectured? Not always, for that will be quite an indictment on the quality of teaching. But that’s for another day. I’m more interested in talking about the little things that subtly shape our experiences in those chambers of secrets (and sleeping?).

Seats
Why is the stage at the bottom, with the rows inclined upwards?

This exposes students to the clear view of the lecturer, thus compelling them to pay attention. In other words, don’t fall asleep, don’t chat with your friends, and don’t fiddle with your phone (read below). But unless it’s noisy, what are the chances the lecturer singles someone out? In university, it seems pretty rare. Why would s/he disrupt his/her thought processes when time is scarce (to them)?

Yet we do conform. Is it because one got to choose which modules to take? Is it maturity beyond our adolescent years? Who said it was the right thing to do?

It’s the lecturers. And we have been disciplined to observe the lecture norms. These turn intuitive, but are they unquestionable? The arrangements of lecture halls facilitate attention, but learning? Without discussion, lectures can be decidedly absorptive and easily forgotten. Furthermore, while we should fully focus for 2 hours, robots we are not.

Arrangements facilitate the lecturer’s needs, but not always the learner’s.

Desks
Why are they right-sided?

The answer is most probably practical, because right-handed humans form a super-majority. That means that even if a vote were to be conducted (along partisan lines as is the trend), status quo would never change. Democracy isn’t perfect, don’t you think?

Left-handers are thus forced to adapt. When tables don’t stretch left enough, they will have to turn their bodies to write for hours each day. Their unnatural postures are also likely to draw unwanted attention during lecture tests. This might seem trivial, but when there are guidelines for work ergonomics, I’m surprised how such a discriminatory practice is allowed to continue in schools.

How rare…

Some schools in Western countries have addressed these by introducing a left-handed desk in each row of seats. (That’s bipartisan!) Hopefully Singapore will soon follow. That said, right-handed students might be annoyed by having fewer aisle seats to choose from.

Take that! Haha… but frankly, this is but one of many user-unfriendly designs affecting the comfort of left-handed people every day.

Devices
Why is the use of phones frowned upon?

During most lectures, there will be 2 clearly-delineated groups of people: Paper soldiers & Laptop warriors. It’s good that academia has embraced technology for its benefits to learning. But if laptops are well and good, why aren’t phones? Apart from calls, don’t they now serve the same functions?

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I’m a deviant in this case. When time permits, I like to summarize uploaded lecture slides in advance. I record these notes using a program that syncs across devices. During lectures, I only need to take down ideas that aren’t apparent or emphasized in the slides. Clearly, a smartphone is ideal for this purpose. One of my lecturers, though, explicitly banned the use of phones.

Most keenly felt, however, are the unseen forces of conformity. When the only thing you attend to, time again, is your phone, eyes are on you. No one voices it, but the social pressures are real. It’s funny, because laptops are actually better tools for digressions like web-surfing and online shopping. Or sleeping. And people aren’t afraid to. Yet they are compelled to hide their phones behind their laptop screens.

I think the labelling of phones originated from its earlier incarnations (not contributing to learning). It’s time to redefine that.

Beepers
Why do some lecturers ignore the end-of-lesson beepers?

Well, they are the lecturers, not used to being lectured! While also part of regular norms, they have the authority to define their own norms in the lectures they conduct.

Click on photos to visit original sources.

Lessons in Lecturing
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