Sample Essay - "Analyze an Issue" Sample Response


     Lectures are rarely a student's ideal form of learning, but they were once an efficient way for experts to introduce fields of study, share theories, or model in-depth thinking in front of large audiences.  Since digital technology has made recording and distributing that information simple, lectures may now seem obsolete and less effective than online learning.  Before dismissing them, however, one needs to ask if they have any potential features that a digital video, post, or tutorial lacks.  Can in-person talks allow a speaker to engage and respond to an audience in ways that a screen cannot?  If so, there is no reason for technology to replace all lectures, but it can enhance many of them instead.

     The Internet has given the general population access to expert instruction.  Features like games, quizzes, and social networking also give users a myriad of opportunities to apply the skills that they have learned and respond to the content of each lesson.  Rather than reaching hundreds of students enrolled in one class, a posted video or lesson can now reach billions of people when online.  This innovation allows people of all ages, classes, and IP addresses, the means to learn from many renowned experts in a field.  Users can also direct the way they learn material: one can replay a section as many times as necessary and can often submit questions about the content.  Applications and software programs also encourage student interaction.  Their features often require more engagement than the soporific slideshows and Power Points commonly used in lectures.  When considering these benefits, technology not only seems more efficient than lectures but more personalized as well.

    Before banning lectures, however, the value of seeing a presentation delivered in person needs to be examined.  Lectures give audiences the opportunity to see an expert model in-depth thinking on a topic, and each audience member often has the opportunity to ask that expert questions about the topic just after the lecture or during office hours.  A student is then more likely to receive a direct and immediate reply from the speaker, rather than a possible reply through a post on a social network or email.  At a live lecture, a speaker can also detect and respond to the audience's needs.  He/she can often perceive confusion or concern within an audience and then take time to clarify a point or further explain a position.  The most memorable lectures often include interactive experiences that a screen cannot facilitate: speakers may pass out artifacts for the students to study, allowing students to use all (or most!) senses to analyze them.  One professor even builds his lecture about making observations by first staging a crime for his students to witness each year.  Ultimately, his lecture clearly delineates the relevant points of study, but the live element of witnessing the crime enhances the experience.  Watching the scene through a screen would provide a safe distance from the action and dull its effect.  Though a live lecture may not be as efficient as technology-based learning, it is vital when the instructor turns the event into an in-person, interactive experience that computers cannot provide.

     Rather than choosing one form of learning over the other, lecturers can now use technology to make students an integral part of the class, rather than passive audience members.  Borrowing a technique from game shows, some instructors now provide students with clickers or a computer program that lets them register their responses to a question on a screen during the lecture.  That opportunity increases engagement and allows the instructor to assess understanding.  Lecturers can also set aside slideshows in order to explore a topic through multiple modes, including images, music, and animation.  If they choose to do so, instructors are also able to post recordings of their lectures online, giving students the benefits of live and online learning experiences.  As shown by the "tablet computers," technology can revitalize and improve archaic methods of communication.  So, it is time for any vapid lectures to get wired.

      Lectures that do no more than a textbook or Power Point can accomplish should no longer be delivered.  The best computer programs, websites, and applications give each user the opportunity to learn the same content through multiple modes and at his/her own pace.   A great speaker and instructor, however, can still deliver lectures that engage students in ways that a computer cannot: live lecturers can respond to students' concerns,  consider their questions, and give each attendee the chance to take part in live learning experiences.  Rather than competing with technology, many lectures that need to be improved can incorporate new digital products.  The items' features can be used to build a community within a lecture hall and ensure that all students in that hall have the option of learning information in ways that work best for them.  Technology can set new standards for lecturers to meet or exceed, but it cannot replace presentations that take advantage of being live.