Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What is the true value of lecture attendance?

Another day of study, another day of pounding through the information hoping that enough of it sticks.

Does anybody else find that they get next to no value out of most lectures? I sit there, try to take notes and listen, but I know that if I spent the time reading through excellent textbooks along with the lecture notes we are given on the web, I will retain and understand so much more!

Why don't I get a lot out of lectures? One problem is that when they move too fast across a difficult concept (or one that I personally find difficult), I get bogged down and have trouble moving on with later concepts that require understanding of the previous idea. Now, the tests and education I had to get to start with should be some kind of guarantee that I am not especially thick, so it can't just be me.

If I were at home going through these notes myself, I would stop at the point at which I had difficulty, refer to a textbook (or, God forbid, "the Internets" ;) ) understand it in a few minutes and move on, getting much more value for my time and actually doing some study that I would have to go back and do later.

Another problem is that sometimes the lecturers come out with statements that don't quite sound right, from things that I or the people around me have studied before. I have heard some slightly off-kilter claims about certain topics that are claimed point-blank as fact when I know that they are contentious at best. This makes me entirely less likely to trust the rest of what the lecturer says, and want to run home to my textbooks or Pubmed instead. Usually I get fixated on the point, and the rest of the lecture is a waste of time.

So why do I even bother going? It is the one time during the week that I see several of my friends. It is nice to catch up with the people you WANT to spend time with of your own free will, rather than the people you are lumped together with in your PBL group (as lovely as they may be). In theory, I could replace this with coffee for the days that I actually have to be there.

I also like most of the lecturers as people, and feel that if they were giving a lecture that was only a quarter full, they would feel bad. I know this sounds silly when I write it down. Perhaps I should strike it off the list! Or just go to the lectures of the lecturers I like. (Kidding!)

There is also the fact that during the lectures the teacher sometimes goes over points that they don't cover in the slides. Unfortunately this is now almost irrelevant in our course. In the good old days when the lecturer was the one teacher of your subject, you could rely on them giving hints about exam content. Nowadays our lecturers don't even write the exams, so there is no guarantee that the same information covered in the lectures will be specifically covered in the examination. The questions are drawn from a broad pool of questions submitted by a massive number of universities, and they base their exams on questions from this pool. I know that this potentially standardises the quality and knowledge of graduates but it somehow makes the concept of the lecture a little less exciting.

So those are my reasons for and against lecture attendance. I'm not about to skip out of it entirely, it is just something that I have to take into consideration when my day is full of both lectures and study and there isn't enough time for both.

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