I saw the band ALT-J with my sons on the weekend, and despite liking their music I left the concert a bit nonplussed.


The problem is they play quite intricate and quirky music, but they are not performers.  Perfect for a smaller venue like a jazz club with a good sound system.   But in a stadium the sound is too loud and harsh, and you loose their main attraction.

You’re left with 4 guys just standing there on stage with some nice lights behind them (they must have taken less than twenty steps in the whole hour and a half).   I think the only attraction for the fans was just seeing them perform in real life.

Pink Floyd were kind of similar, they just stood there and played, but what they provided was a stage production, an enveloping audio visual experience.  They knew how and when to get an audience on their feet (and they turned the volume down a bit).


For me, ALT-J’s problem is they are too big to play small venues, they don’t have the skills for big venues and are not big enough to afford a stage production (or perhaps not interested).

Which brings me in a round about way to traditional lectures.  Recognizing that all analogies break down at a particular point, let me explain.

Like ALT-J,  in traditional lectures all we are doing is delivering a compromised version of the content.  Content students can get somewhere else, at a time that suits them, and of a better quality.

Like ALT-J, academics are about quality and intricacy and are better suited to smaller venues where that can be communicated (and yes teaching is about constructive activity and two way communication etc, the analogy had to fall over somewhere).

On the other hand, like Pink Floyd, good lecturers know that a concert hall needs something different from a small room.  Good lecturers do more to prepare, they arrange activities, they select interesting media, they frame the content in engaging narratives and scenarios.   For big room lecturers it’s about delivering a message and the setting the scene for what is to follow.  They don’t just stand and deliver.

(Note: If a student is showing up just to watch you and get close to you, call campus security.)

So I suppose the message is, if you’re going persist with big room lecturers be Pink Floyd not ALT-J.