Summary: Why do we give lectures?
Associate Professor Helmer Aslaksen
Department of Mathematics
Before the invention of paper, lecturing was state of the art technology, but what purpose does
it serve now? Why don't we just find a good textbook, or put up detailed lecture notes on the
Web? And if we insist on giving lectures, can't we just webcast?
As a member of my department's teaching committee, I see lectures where the lecturer reads
aloud from notes that are projected on screen, and where the students follow by reading the
printed version of the notes in front of them. What is the point of such lectures? Should we
just cancel lectures, and instead ask the students to read notes on the Web or watch webcasts?
My answer is no! I believe that we can make our lectures worthwhile. However, we need to
ask ourselves how we can add value. What can we give the students that they cannot get from
First of all, we can provide a bit of human touch. Even in a large lecture theatre, it is possible
to interact with the audience. With a cordless microphone, I can walk around asking questions.
If people are chatting, I immediately head towards the trouble spots. By asking simple
questions, I can immediately gauge whether the students are lost.