Spirit of the lecture

The Mooc I am enrolled in depends much on the video lecture. I have found these both useful and engaging, experiencing a sense of ‘getting to know’ the lecturer and sharing in some of his light-hearted asides. The lecturer creates a sort of ‘community-by-proxy’, linking students together who have watched the video clips apart.

Adams et al (2014) employ a phenomenological methodology when focusing on Mooc lectures. They examine the lived experience of students to offer new perspectives and throw additional light on well-rehearsed arguments tending to polarise xMoocs with their transmissive pedagogies and cMoocs with connectivist/constructivist approaches.

By Vinciane Lacroix (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The authors characterise the online lecture as being a “hermeneutic speech act”. Hermeneutics is the study of text interpretation and, here, the authors are saying that the videoed lecture is a punctive and interpretive act – the lecturer is not simply transmitting ‘dead’ knowledge from a script, but imbuing it with subjective interpretation by a type of performance. This claim is borne out by a phenomenological approach as the philosophy argues that no object is perceived without a subject and for objects to be appraised at all, they must be apprehended by a perceiving mind. Therefore, with regard to the online lecture, no discrete knowledge remains unenlivened by the subject who delivers it with her own interpretive colour.

It is the enlivening and particular spirit the lecturer brings to the address that can strengthen the immediacy and potency of the lived now experience the students in Adams’ paper relate. The lecturer is “recovering to spirit what might be lost to the letter” (Friesen, 2011, p.98) and it might help foster the engagement and sense of belonging argued to exist only within cMoocs.

Friesen states,

“Texts or written words (and to a lesser extent, speech itself) are only so many supports or prompts to realize and sustain the life of the spirit or, more modestly, the development of understanding and meaning.” (Friesen, 2011, p.98).

Friesen remarks on the texts of both the speaker and the note-taker in the lecture hall, arguing that these are “important only insofar as they capture and enable the creativity and originality of the speaker” (p.99). It is this authentic capture of the experience of a thing which is attempted by the ethnographer and similarly examined by the phenomenologist. It is also this spirit which prompts, perhaps, the imaginative creation of an ethnographic object.

Every act of understanding is the inversion of a speech-act, during which the thought which was the basis of the speech must become conscious” (Friesen, 2011, quoting Schleiermacher,1998, p.98.)

Friesen gives an historical account of the lecture, relating Goffman’s (1959) contention that the lecture superimposes the dramaturgical upon the textual. The text of the address carries with it the accumulated authority of the academic which she imbues with a life-force in the delivery. The effect of this animation is not lost or diluted on the Mooc student to which Adams’ students’ and my own experience can attest. Practices around text and the lecture have evolved over time as mediating technologies have similarly progressed, creating new configurations for discourse. The use of video lectures or student-led communication pedagogies needn’t be set in opposition, but can both claim a place in online courses.

Friesen, N. (2011). The Lecture as a Transmedial Pedagogical Form. Educational Researcher, 40(3), pp. 95-102.

Adams, C. et al. (2014). A phenomenology of learning large: the tutorial sphere of xMOOC video lectures. Distance Education, 35(2), pp.1–15.

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