Lecture halls: beauty or beast?

As a result of technological advances and a rapidly changing generation, lecture halls may not be as abundant and relevant at other colleges and universities as they once were. However, at Georgia State, they are still present and resourceful.

Like several schools, Georgia State offers both lecture halls and smaller classrooms for students, varying majors and courses.

Throughout their college career, students encounter their fair share of both types of classroom settings, but has the need and effectiveness of lecture hall classrooms in general ever crossed the minds of students?

“[The effectiveness of lecture halls] is another empirical question that has not yet been tested out,” said Peter Lyons, Ph. D., Associate Provost for Institutional Effectiveness and professor in the School of Social Work.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a lecture as “a discourse given before an audience or class especially for instruction.”

A lecture hall at Georgia State is defined by the classroom seat capacity of 98 to 334 students.

The general inventory, defined as the number of general classroom space at Georgia State by University Registrar Shari P. Schwartz, lists 232 classrooms at the university, 14 of which serve as lecture halls.

The teaching style of Andrew Clancy, senior lecturer in the Biology department, and most lecturers and professors parallel Merriam-Webster’s definition.

“I’m a little old school and agree with the philosophy that the professor lectures and the students take notes,” Clancy said.

According to Lyons, classes that require lecture halls act as methods of informational delivery and could even been taken online.

“If it is just the transmission of knowledge, then online classes or 300 to 500 student auditoriums are efficient as well,” Lyons said.

Powerpoints, overhead projectors and now Prezi presentations are most commonly utilized in lecture halls in order to extend information easily to students.

“Lecture halls are generally classrooms that don’t need specific equipment, such as laboratory equipment,” Schwartz said. “It’s really broken down by needs.”

According to Schwartz, the decision of a lecture hall class setting is determined by several factors, such as scheduling, enrollment demand, equipment needs, course format and class instructional needs.

“Certain classes can be taught by lecture,” Schwartz said. “Certain classes need computer and hands on interaction.”

Large lecture halls are commonly utilized for introductory level classes and core classes in higher demand, while smaller classrooms adhere to courses that focus on students’ majors and require more classroom interaction.

“It gives the advantage that in higher demand courses, more students can get into those courses without being closed out,” Schwartz said.

Although lecture halls give a great amount of information to students, the interaction between lecturer or professor and student is sometimes jeopardized by such large settings.

“Your professor that you have never met walks in and talks at you for an hour and fifteen minutes,” said psychology professor Marina Wheeler. “I try not to do that. I try to have a lecture that increases discussion and feedback from students.”

In addition to the abundance of presentations and note-taking in lecture halls, Clancy said that lecture halls offer a “more formal interaction.”

To enhance instructor-student interaction in courses that involve lecture hall sizes, Clancy tries to “makes sure office hours are available for students.”

Clancy teaches both lecture halls and smaller classes, but he uses the “same lecturing appeal” for both.

“My smaller classes have more opportunity to answer questions in class and offers more interactions between students and me,” Clancy said.

For professors, the separation between lecture halls and smaller classrooms bring different types of students.

“[Lecturers] have to inspire students in larger classes,” Clancy said. “Sometimes the students in these classes are less motivated.”

Clancy said that his higher level biology courses that usually have about 40 to 50 students are not only more “intimate,” but also includes students who “know [biology] is what they want to learn.”

Wheeler agreed that interaction in lecture halls bring forth “more of a challenge” but she tries to help by finding use in technology such as iClickers.

“The use of technology helps students to engage more,” Wheeler said.

Although Clancy believes that smaller class sizes exert more motivation, Wheeler believes lecture halls do the same.

“These classes are much more energetic,” Wheeler said. “In a larger setting, students are more confident answering questions.”

To make up for the larger classes, most science department courses offer large lecture halls accompanied by separate labs of 24 students.

“There are opportunities for students to get to know other students in science labs,” Clancy said.

Freshman student Steven Escobar’s literature class includes 15 to 20 students, but he says that “[he] does the best in that class because the teacher is more accessible to help.”

However, sophomore student Bianca Wood disagreed.

“I like lecture halls,” Wood said. “There are more students that can help each other if they need it.”

Schwartz said the effectiveness is “based upon the method of teaching and learning styles of the student.”

Professors and students agree that in the examination and debate of the resourceful of lecture halls in today’s colleges and universities, varies upon the student, the instructor and ultimately the subject.