Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Death of Lectures

Interesting comment by Dr. Bob on my last post:

Students arent what they used to be.....

We seem to be seeing what Americ Azevedo at Berkeley saw a few years back - look up his podcast, "Time, technology and disappearing students"

Even highly motivated students in Ivy league institutions make value judgments about the merit of attendance at lectures. Those judgments might cause "lecturers" to redefine themselves

I should have 179 students in my lectures. I am, by some accounts, an OK lecturer; evals are good, unit average is 60% etc.. I even smash mobile phones with a hammer to liven things up!

I teach the internet and I'm "where it's at" - so the material tunes in.
Out of 180 students - I'm lucky to get 30 by mid semester...

Many of my lectures are supplemented (not replaced) by screencasts.. quizzes outside (on a Moodle) check engagement. The notes on the Moodle are digested during the lectures. I require the students to mindmap the ideas I talk through during the lectures. The poor things aren't good with pens...

I talk well, present with energy and enthusiasm and scatter my lectures with personal insight, humor and memorable anecdotes. I even dress well -I like sharp Italian suits)...

Check my Facebook.. they love me..

BUT THEY WON'T TURN UP TO MY LECTURES!!!


In truth I don't think the bulk of staff are adapting. The difference between a good unit average and a bad one - is no longer attendance - but the quality of e-learning provision..

These students are different in the way they collect, assimilate and digest information. I challenge you to find an 18 year old who does complain of writers cramp/RSI after having been detached from his keyboard and forced to write out a single page of A4 long hand...;)


I'm wondering if we need to rethink not just lectures but the entire structure of higher education.

Do we need large lecture halls? Would we be better served with smaller classrooms and more laboratories?

Do we need to have "facilitators" leading classes rather than the professors? Focus the in-person time on the things in-person does best - discussions, labs, and other activities where physical proximity is useful. Many of the professors I know would be perfectly happy focusing on research and being subject matter experts rather than teaching.

Can we use the tenured professors for online discussion and oversight of content? This may take care of the issue of students expecting interaction with top experts.

Should we develop 2 tracks for tenure? One facilitator-focused and the traditional research track? What do we need to do to establish equitable "respect levels" for the excellent facilitators as for the researchers?

What type of support personnel would we need?

I know our university's increasing focus on 24/7 access of information and seamless wireless access is just one indicator of an attempt to adapt to student expectations. But what else do we need to think about? What should higher education look like? Should the face-to-face lecture die?

3 comments:

Dave Ferguson said...

I don't think lectures were all that good even 30 or 40 years ago. Not to say they were evil, only that there were fewer alternatives. And, honestly, once the audience goes beyond 30 people, the chance of interacting with more than a handful is a fantasy.

This from someone who vividly (and fondly) remembers an entire hour spend on "anyone lived in a pretty how town" and 90 minutes on the first seven lines of the Iliad.

I'm not in academia, but in the training/learning field where I work, the fill-'em-with-knowledge model has been declining for some time. The college lecture is practically the embodiment of that model, and my impression is that many professors grew up in and cleave do it. (Where else, other than civil service, is there the equivalent of tenure?)

A further irony is the popularity of podcasts -- essentially portable lectures with no possibility whatsoever of interaction. But the focus and portability can offer value, whereas my hunch is far too many face-to-face lectures boil down to "I talk, you listen."

DrBob said...

HE:1984 style
In the States you do have TA's who grade, facilitate, take labs etc. We occasionally put upon PhD students for these tasks.

2 tracks:- controversial. For all but about 5 Universities in the world, teaching is the core activity.i.e the thing that brings in money. Old Universities (including top 5) tend to have a reservoir of trusts and alumni to help them through. The newer ones don't. The top five might also be accused of "manipulating local politics" to gain financial advantage.

There's a famous review "The Lambert Report" on UK Universities which showed that spin out companies and research activity was little more than a black hole on most University balance sheets.
Research is an easy life - there's little responsibility, virtually zero accountability and plenty of travel.
The value a researcher adds to many departments is questionable. Often research staff cause more damage to local moral than good. To do research is different. I believe every academic should do it, to raise their game generally - but this is more about professional development than furthering niche research. More people will probably read this than I every had reading my diamond work, or my work on the control of non-linear electron distributions -I still have 50 preprints if you want one ;)

I think the horizon has brought something new. On the past if you wanted to launch a new course you needed to recruit or train. These are very expensive things to do. I think we are heading towards outsourcing educational provision in he. To an extent it is already here with college partnerships, etc. We teach java here formally - most of our students learn it from Youtube.

Some perceive the new role of academics as being teaching managers. i.e if the University wants me to start a degree - they give me some money and I buy in the best resources from around the globe - the best writers in areas, the best at producing screencasts and then man the course with the best support - online tutors etc. In this scenario, face to face then becomes about social constructivism, catalyzing peer groups and getting them to network and drive each other.

This strategy produces high quality, high response provision; much cheaper and with much lower risk.

The lectures should become few, high impact events (=fewer rooms - admin love that).

I am coming to the end of a project - the "University bubble" In this experimental project, a student is issued with a pendrive. As soon as he puts it in his computer the University logs and controls everything. The theory being that 50% of our students work at home where distractions can cause issues. If a student declares they are now doing "University work" - the University environment then moves to them - they are being watched, logged and assesed with every keystroke.
They can interact with everyone on the course - including multiple tutors. Scary stuff. The least this does is stop plagiarism and ensure maximum engagement is seen to happen.. scary stuff but I think this new generation would respond.

And of course all these translates to massive savings. Floorspace in a typical Metropolitan University comes in at $200/sq foot/year - I can see the administration sending me valentines cards for years to come.....

Charmante_Leo_Farah said...

This seems to be one of the aspects of technology & e-learning where we see the downfall. I agree that often students don't bother showing up in classes and neglect the significance of learning from instructors. However, those who have the will to 'learn' they take advantage of anything including technology, & also realize that mostly we understand better if someone teaches or explains to us. I believe e-learning or e-education should be encourage, which does not mean that traditional conventional must be forgotten completely.