In the first post of this course, we’ll look at some of the trends, discussions, and issues facing lectures in contemporary university teaching.
The lecture is dead?
For the past several years, there have been a range of think-pieces written about the role of the lecture in a new, technological age of universities. In particular, we’ve seen a range of articles claiming that, as a mode of teaching, the lecture is dying off and will soon be replaced by more digitally-savvy methods. In 2012, Harvard Magazine discussed how, after 600 years, the lecture as we know it is in its twilight years. University of Adelaide and UTS, among others, have made wide-reaching changes to their curriculum to downplay lectures or get rid of them entirely.
Take a look at this recent article from Wired: “The Lecture is Dead. I Would Know – I’m a Professor.” The author of this piece, and the others above, point to the following perceived failings of the lecture model:
- Traditional lectures are outdated: they have been unchanged for hundreds of years
- New technologies such as videos have replaced lectures
- Students are easily bored by long presentations
- If the lecturer is just going to read, the students might as well read a book instead
- Lectures are too passive – students learn better by doing, rather than listening
- Students don’t attend lectures anyway, so there is no point in offering them
What do you think of the points made in this article? Do you agree or disagree?
In a recent academic article, French and Kennedy (2016) explored the arguments relating to the lecture. They note that articles such as those presented above are usually personal opinion of an individual, and not necessarily evidence-based. They tend to focus solely on the negative aspects of the worst types of lectures.
In reality, like any teaching method, lectures can be good, or bad, depending on how they are designed and delivered as part of a holistic curriculum (which usually includes other formats such as workshops, labs, seminars, tutorials, internships, practicums, and other methods): “A well-designed and well-delivered lecture that involves students in the processes of questioning, analysing and critical thinking has the capacity to be a highly engaging experience.” (French & Kennedy 2016: 645) It is not the lecture format itself that is necessarily boring or passive. A flipped classroom experience has as much potentially to be a poor student experience as a traditional lecture: it is how it is delivered that is key.
State of the lecture
All these perspectives are responding to changes occurring across the education sector. We’ve discussed many of them in previous coffee courses, such as flipping the classroom. To sum up, the most common trends include:
- Increasing use of videos in teaching to deliver content
- Commonplace practice of recording all lectures for a course
- Increasing prominence of active learning methods and strategies impacting teaching practices
- Access to digital technologies means there is less reliance on face-to-face delivery
- Flexible modes of delivery such as blended or flipped classes are more common
Is attendance at lectures declining?
There is significant discussion related to the perceived decrease in attendance at lectures, and much of this is thought to be a result of the above changes in technology– particularly lecture recording. We’ll speak more about lecture recordings in Day 5, but consensus is lacking as to whether technologies have reduced attendance (Gysbers et al 2011; French & Kennedy 2016; Petrović & Pale 2015). Extensive studies with students have shown that the reasons students do not attend are more a result of external factors such as work, illness, timetable clashes, prioritising other courses, or that they felt that they could master the material without attending (Petrović & Pale, 2015). In fact, students usually point out that they value live lectures, and would not want them to be entirely replaced with only video or recordings (Gysbers et al 2011). The function of recordings and live lectures are seen as different by students: live lectures are for learning, for social presence, and for interaction with peers and teaching staff, whereas recordings are primarily used for study, practice, or review (ibid).
What as your experience been? How have you found the above trends to impact your teaching practice?
What we’ll cover in this course
Now that we’ve looked at some of the trends, public perception, and pressures facing lectures, in the upcoming posts we will turn to look at how to address some of the potential issues with concrete strategies. Rather than “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and getting rid of lectures entirely, we will look at methods you could use in your teaching to improve student engagement and outcomes, and how to make the best use of available technologies. Tomorrow, we will share ideas for quick activities to break up the pace and engage critical thinking in students. In upcoming posts, we’ll look at technologies for student response, designing effective presentations, and taking advantage of lecture recordings.
- Sarah French & Gregor Kennedy (2017) Reassessing the value of university lectures, Teaching in Higher Education, 22:6, 639-654, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2016.1273213
- Vanessa Gysbers, Jill Johnston, Dale Hancock, & Gareth Denyer (2011). “Why do students still bother coming to lectures, when everything is available online?” International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, 19:2, 20-36, https://openjournals.library.sydney.edu.au/index.php/CAL/article/view/4887
- Juraj Petrović & Predrag Pale (2015). “Students’ perception of live lectures’ inherent disadvantages”, Teaching in Higher Education, 20:2, 143-157, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2014.962505
If you are interested in exploring the topic further, these might be of interest.
- “Will the University of Adelaide’s lecture phase-out be a flop?” by Phillip Dawson, The Conversation, 3 July 2015
- “The lecture is dead, long live the lecture” by Merlin Crossley, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 January 2016
For an ANU perspective, here are two blog posts about lecture recording from Marnie Hughes-Warrington, the ANU DVC-A.
- “Counting the cost of live lectures” – 6 July 2015
- “Not Going, Not Listening Either” – 8 November 2015
We’d like to hear from you!
The discussion in the comments is often the most interesting and valuable part of these courses, and we’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and welcome you to share advice with your colleagues. If you are new to the coffee courses, just be aware we have some community guidelines, which we encourage you to look at. If you have signed up for this course on HORUS, you will need to post at least 1 comment on each post to receive recognition for the course.
Upcoming face-to-face workshop
There has been such huge interest in this course that we’ve added an optional face-to-face workshop where we will be demonstrating some of the techniques we are going to discuss in this course and sharing ideas. The session will be Friday, 30 June from 9am – 11am in Building 10T1 (CHELT), Seminar Room 1.08. Sign up on HORUS to join us.
A quick welcome
You can respond to one of the 2 activities listed above, or any of the below questions. Or just introduce yourself!
- Tell us about your experiences of lecturing (as a lecturer, or a student).
- Why do students value lectures? What is they see they can get from lectures that they cannot get through other ways?
- Can the efficiency of lectures be achieved in other ways? How? With what?