Picture yourself sitting in a room that can fit over three hundred people. You feel a little like you are looking into the bottomless mouth of the Grand Canyon. You feel small, anonymous, and if you shouted out, your voice would sound like a whisper in a cave. All eyes are on the person at the front of the room. This person, who is probably three times your age, has more degrees than you can imagine, and seems like a celebrity in some respects. This is your professor. This is a college lecture. And being in one can feel like you are drowning, especially if it is a course that pertains to your weakest subject. This feeling begs the question: are huge lectures really the best and most cohesive way for college students to learn?
Lecture classes can be great; after all, if you go to a large university, a lecture class offers more seats and availability. For students who do not like to participate, a lecture-based course can offer the perfect amount of anonymity and lessen the chances of being called on for answers. However, lectures do not provide the opportunity for one-on-one learning. Yes, office hours are available, but they pose the problem of time constraints. If a student is already disinterested in the subject, he/she will not want to seek extra time spent on the course. Furthermore, the problem of not understanding something in a lecture is heightened by the fear of asking for clarification during the lecture. When a professor asks if there are any questions, usually he or she is met with cringe-inducing silence. No one wants to be the odd one out.
Of course, there are benefits to the lecture method. As mentioned previously, it allows for more students to register for one class and minimizes the number of extra sections of the same course. It does allow for less interruption, thus resulting in more content covered. With lectures, a recitation can be utilized, which is a subgroup of students in the lecture, allowing for more individualized learning outside of the lecture hall. While this is a beneficial way to get more participation out of students, it still does not solve the overwhelming atmosphere of a lecture hall.
So will the lecture method ever go away? There are alternatives to the lecture method, as suggested by The University of Waterloo, such as debates, field trips, pro/con sessions, and case studies. Recitations also offer opportunities for those who feel like a lecture is too intimidating to even attempt to excel in it. However, as university enrollment continues to grow, so does class size and with that the necessity of the large, lecture style class remains. So what is an overwhelmed student to do?
As painstaking as it may be, office hours offer the best solution to lecture hall anxieties. Office hours allow students to get to know their professors on a closer basis, rather than attempting to stand under the spotlight in a full room. Lectures capitalize on letting the professor have an hour or more to talk, so office hours are the best opportunity to let a professor know what you think and to clear up any confusion, thus not letting yourself get behind in the class. Even though knocking on that office door may be just as intimidating as raising your hand in front of all your classmates, just remember that it is your professor’s job to help you learn. Every experience may not result in a possible recommendation letter, but there is never harm in reaching out for your own benefit.