I’m not late — I’m in fact right on time — but the only seats left are close to the front and strangely they do not afford a very clear view of the screen at all. The chairs themselves are decades old and make my back hurt almost immediately. When things start up, I crane my neck upward and slump way down in my seat with the broken arms, hoping to be able to focus on the unfolding of the next hour and a half while people around me text, eat, have side conversations.
Contrast this with the following evening. When I am ready, I open a laptop and click “play.” I’m surrounded by loved ones — my cat and my spouse — and I spend an hour focused on the screen. We can pause to go back or pause if we need to make a comment, or reflect a bit. After it’s over, there’s a willing conversation partner to help analyse what I just experienced.
If you’re reading this blog entry from the CTE website, you could reasonably assume that I’m describing the difference between a large lecture hall and online learning. Perhaps you surmise that I’m a fan of online learning, and feel that lecture halls are bad places for learning, both cognitively and somatically. However, I’m actually describing my experience this past weekend of going out to a movie versus watching a downloaded TV episode (paid for, on iTunes, just to be clear). But when I think about it, I have to wonder if there is a connection to be made.
I’ve long been a proponent of the lecture , done well, as a great way to teach and learn. It’s a craft that can be honed, and my own lectures (according to me anyway) are universally adored while being chock full of memorable brilliance (jokes and useful theory).
Thinking back, though, on my weekend, I guess I am reconsidering my position a bit. Can self-paced, high-quality learning online be better for minds and bodies? You bet! Can it replace the social dimension of dozens or hundreds of people coming together and the (occasional) “aha” moments that arise? Sometimes, yes. I’m not going to stop holding lectures, but this weekend reminded me, again (it takes me lot of reminders), that how we use lecture time and space needs to be thoughtful rather than assumed.