Monday, September 14, 2009

Lecture Style

I cannot sit and listen to someone deliver information to me in lecture style for very long at this point. My ability to get information from the internet, switching from subject to subject at my earliest discomfort and getting it all in text seems to have ruined me for the old method. Text can be skimmed, reviewed, or held down for examination at will. Going to a 60 or 90 minute lecture many times a week for school now seems inconceivable to me. I was never good at it any any stage of my academic career, but I could at least endure it.

But perhaps not. I can recall clock-watching and tuning out well back into elementary school, and the classes I remember as intersting were math classes where we had problems to work or humanities classes where there would be at least some discussion. Teachers who let me read, write, or daydream – that worked, too. Okay, so maybe I’m not any worse at this now. It sure seems it, though.

I am less enamored of sound in general, which I imagine is part of it. I seek silence more often. I take a break from group conversation more readily. That is likely hearing-related. Though I hear folks just fine, it may be that I am losing some frequencies, destroying nuance and giving everything a blaring sound.

I have opposite impressions listening to a speaker. The first is that s/he is trickling information out too slowly, larding up with normal conversational speech filler such as qualifiers and repetitions; the second is that too much information is being imparted – new subjects introduced late in the game. This would suggest some storage problem is at the root. I can automatically structure an auditory lesson into some workable package, but once that structure is full, or new information does not fit neatly into its design, I cannot absorb more. People continuing to speak actually interferes with learning at that point, as they increase the noise-to-signal ratio. It becomes physically tiring to listen to them, straining to pick up content important enough to be attached to the scaffolding. It’s not just sermons (though no one should be going longer than fifteen minutes at this point), because I have the same impression at Grand Rounds or department meetings, with and without Power Point or handouts. Very quickly, there is not enough that is new in the speaking to attract the ear. I get annoyed. The lecturer clearly thinks that something new and important is being delivered, but it sounds like a minor elaboration to me. The mental tiredness is similar to what I experience when listening to someone with a heavy accent. One has to listen very hard, but one does not get much back.

When I have to teach, I hope it is not like that for my audience. I fear it may be. I find even professional speakers on video – presumably selected in Darwinian style for higher interest and ability – tough to listen to. Maybe my standards are just too high for speaker quality these days and I’ve gotten spoiled. Maybe I’m just getting more stupid as I age.

I have attempted at times to switch to a note-taking style, without much success. How in the world did they listen to three-hour sermons in the old days? Were they more patient, or just so understimulated during the week that the novelty gave them wings?

10 comments:

Carl said...

I've noticed the same trend. It's not senility--I'm convinced the Internet has altered the way our brains most efficiently receive information. I not only shun lectures, but no longer have the patience for movies and most television (apart from sports).

dilys said...

Bang-on. Me too.

I suspect listening to long sermons in the old days was for many like my boarding school chapel. Glad to sit down, zone out, think your thoughts, not have to pass a written test. The daily irritants at bay for a time. Perhaps long sermons and lectures are bearable in inverse proportion to the stimulus-level, and opportunities for learning, in the rest of life.

Also, by temperament and culture, many of us have become extremely individualistic, far from sheep waiting to be told what to think.

james said...

Different learning styles? I remember reading something several times and not quite getting it--and then when the prof started explaining it, using essentially the same words as the text, it clicked. Maybe I was under the weather that week.

I'm better at picking things up from reading now (practice, and more of a commitment to work through the details on paper(*) ), but some things still seem easier to follow when the expert is talking. Subject to the usual caveats about the speaker's command of English...

(*) There's no substitute for running the numbers yourself--sometimes the expert has screwed up, and sometimes he left some important details out of the paper.

Donna B. said...

"getting it all in text"

Yep, that's me. I hate having to listen to a speech and generally wait for the transcript.

I have to be real interested in a subject to go to the trouble of plugging in my headphones to listen to videos. Most of the time, I don't bother but occasionally it's worth it.

Retriever said...

I prefer listening to lectures to watching videos. So, I have an Ipod full of free Itunes U podcasts and Teaching Company lectures. The thing is, I am always doing something while listening: driving, or doing chores, or weeding, or walking. I hate watching videos on the internet, not least because with three on the spectrum in the house who squawk at unexpected music or soundtrack from my computer, it's hard to listen or watch without disturbing people. I don't like headphones when surfing as I can't hear the family. I actually like long sermons if the preacher is good. But I am less patient since my beloved minister retired (she was the best preacher I have ever heard). The new ones aren't as appealing to me, and I fidget something awful, try to surreptitiously check my Blackberry, write laundry lists. I find it hard to listen without doing something. Knitting is good.

Mostly, I prefer to read, and lily pad hop on the net.

But I still belive that the Word of God is meant to be heard, not read silently. Nothing like hearing a good reader in church to open a text to one, help one hear new things in it. And for the same reason, a decent sermon (not common, obviously)is a treasure.

Also, as my eyes have been hurt by endless boring work on the computer to earn a living, I try to listen to as many books as possible (eye strain otherwise makes me doze off after work and a few pages). If the narrator isn't too obnoxious, I like being able to hear a book while driving, or washing dishes or other chores.

akafred said...

AVI - I started to read your blog but it was too long and I got bored. So I got out my flannelgraph instead.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Interesting - I also like recorded classes and books - but only in the car.

jaed said...

Hmm. Not sure this is universal - I have gotten most of my information from the net longer than (I would guess) most people here, but I took a math class a couple of years ago and didn't have a problem with the lectures.

(I have developed a tendency to take copious notes and transcribe them later, which may make a difference too. Although I didn't do that when I was going to school.)

Gringo said...

I have always taken copious notes in lectures. I even took notes during a defensive driving course. Perhaps that is a consequence of my freshman high school Biology course, where we were required to hand in our notebook every marking period.

In math/science type courses, where one takes down what is on the board, as opposed to what the speaker is saying, I will doodle when there is noting on the board to write down: my hand is constantly moving.

It helps to go over the material covered before the lecture, as math/science material takes a while to sink in. It is best to use the lecture as a review, as opposed to hearing it for the first time.

Different learning styles for different people. Different strokes...

Kurt said...

Like Retriever, I hate getting information (news, etc.) from videos these days. Unless there is something I have to see, it seems a terribly inefficient way of getting information.

As far as lectures, I don't know how much patience I have for most of them any more. It has been a few years since I attended a professional conference, but in other places where people are going on and talking as a way of imparting information (various sorts of meetings come to mind), I try to take notes (I was always a very good note-taker in my younger days), but I find myself zoning out rather quickly and starting to doodle.