Lectures and Lecturing: the basics


The Oxford Pocket English dictionary says that a lecture is a “ talk giving specified information to a class”. The noun "lecture" dates from 14th century, meaning "action of reading, that which is read," from the Latin lectus, pp. of legere "to read." Its subsequent meaning as "a discourse on a given subject before an audience for purposes of instruction" is from the 16th century…The common meaning is now perhaps “a member of academic staff teaching a large group of students”  or in other words, a ‘Whole Group Session’ rather than a lecture per se.

Our notions of what a lecture is have changed a bit since then – lecturers usually use their own notes, often supported by a on screen presentation (but beware the 'Perils of PowerPoint') and ideally, with some student engagement built in.

So what is a lecture for in a 21st century institution? Why DO we have something called ‘lectures’ on the timetables? Why are academic staff usually called ‘lecturers’? What does a lecture consist of? What is its purpose? If you consider these questions EXPLICITLY before you sit down to plan a ‘lecture’, you may find that you begin to question the structure and delivery that you have relied upon in the past.

You should also plan your lectures as a part of a longer sequence of learning that includes:

  • Pre-lecture preparation and study
  • Post-lecture tutorials, seminars and independent study

NB: If you are interested in definitions of lectures, Sally Brown and Phil Race devote a whole chapter and an appendix to different interpretations in their book, Lecturing: A Practical Guide (2002).

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