Tuesday, 31 March 2015

I write for Britain's most PC newspaper


OK, regular readers can have a good laugh at the fact I have today published a piece in The Guardian, which is famously the home of political correctness in British newspaper journalism.

It would not be dignified for me to try and explain myself; the fact that I am not getting paid probably makes matters worse rather than better...

The main reason was that I was asked to write 400 words in favour of lectures (one of my hobby horses), and as an ex freelance journalist, I became fascinated by the challenge of saying what I wanted to say, briefly and in an engaging manner.

Could I still do it, I wondered? Before I knew it, I had done it - so, yes.

Below is pasted the version I submitted - and to see how the sub-editors improved it, go to:



I am reluctant to discuss lecturing, since on this particular topic it is futile since I am in too small a minority. The fact is that real lectures are always greatly appreciated by students who want to learn. But what are called 'lectures' nowadays are a travesty. 

...Vast, stuffy venues that seat hundreds; students sitting in the dark and unable to see the speaker; a disembodied voice droning into a microphone; the lecturer reading-out endless powerpoint slides which have already been posted online; the scanty audience passive instead of actively making their own notes -  distracted by themselves and others intermittently browsing the internet and social networking; and the whole thing being recorded as if to emphasize to students that they don't really need to be there and they don't really need to pay attention... 

...well these atrocities are what people currently call lectures, and they are indefensible. 

However, so are the so-called alternatives to lectures! Mere gimmicks and novelties - designed to get praise and awards for teaching 'innovation'. (A bicycle with triangular wheels is an innovation - the proper question is whether it is fit for purpose.) 

But when lectures are taken seriously, and conducted in the proper way, they are the best pragmatic way of teaching knowledge to people who want to know. 

Good lectures are possible and achievable - I experienced many of them at my medical school. But good lectures are not easy, nor are they as cheap as some 'alternatives'. Good lectures require all-round effort from people who appoint teaching staff and design lecture theatres; from those who construct courses, and those who create the educational ethos.

And (hardest of all) good lectures require here-and-now concentration during the actual teaching period - effort from both lecturer and audience alike. A good lecture is hard work!

Because a good lecture is a one-off performance. Like the theatre rather than the cinema, everybody present contributes to the success or failure, everybody is 'involved'. But when it 'works', a good lecture is an experience that may be remembered forever. 

So real lecturing is irreplaceable in the same way that live theatre or musical performance is irreplaceable - real human beings, actually-present and in psychological contact; seeing and hearing each other in real-time; working together on something they both value. 

It is sad that so few modern students will ever experience anything of this kind.