The rear view
Looking back through history, the printing press revolutionised the emerging university in medieval times, replacing an academic person who read out rare manuscripts, or the “reader,” with a more expository style of lecture that summarised key philosophical questions for further discussion, assuming that people had done some reading of texts that were more freely available. (French and Kennedy, 2017, p. 640).
We now have a revolution of a different nature, the digital revolution, which again is impacting on the way we teach and learn. Considering the revolution in higher education, what cultural change do you think will take place in higher education? What new skills will be required in people who are tasked with higher education?
The Revolution will be Blogged!
While the printing press in the 1400s was a huge leap forward in who could access knowledge, the contemporary equivalent is the internet and digital technology, which has made all the knowledge in the entire world available to everyone at the tips of their fingers, providing they have access to the technology.
Even in the early 1400s academics were beginning to question the need for their one way “reader” lecture format, when, after the advent of the printing press, students could access the knowledge in printed books. Likewise we now see frequent questioning of our contemporary standard lecture format which puts the academic at the front as the font of all knowledge, because “all knowledge” is available freely in digital forms.
Yet the lecture has persisted through the centuries and remains, in many universities, central to the sharing of knowledge and skills by experts. It has slightly changed its format over the ages, though.
So is the lecture finally dead as some are proclaiming? If not, in what transformations will take place to the lecture, in our times? Some emerging contemporary trends in higher education are covered at length in the 2017 Horizon Report by Educause.
It could be argued that these trends subvert the traditional lecture through the many opportunities available for people to undertake their own self-managed learning and the requirements of professions for student outcomes that cannot be achieved in a lecture format, but require active learning. The development of constructivist, active and collaborative learning models, such as the Problem Based Learning and Project Based Learning, has coincided with technology which enables these models of learning, as well as the expressed wishes of professional fields to have work-ready graduates. (Horizon Report, 2017, p. 34)
The “Flipped Classroom”
One big idea that has taken hold at all levels of education in recent times is that of flipping the classroom (this was the topic of our first Coffee Course). Based on ideas about constructivist, active and collaborative learning, it requires students to study material abundantly available on the internet or in online course environments, in advance of face to face classes, and come to class ready to collaborate and apply their knowledge to scenarios or projects. Rather than sitting passively in a lecture situation taking notes, students actively seek out information and use class time to work on scenarios based on their intended professional fields. (Howitt & Pegrum, 2015)
Flexible learning spaces
Our lecture theatres are not designed for this type of collaborative team work and problem solving, they are designed for mass, one-way communications. The physical design of flexible learning spaces has become a theme in many universities, and in many cases mass lecture theatres are being dismantled. (Horizon Report, 2017, p. 16)
Is this trend a sign of the demise of the traditional lecture?
Lecture capture and learning objects
It is now standard practice in most universities to record lectures and make these available to students for review online – hence many students decide not to attend live lectures, and instead, access them later online. A quiz and/or forum linked to the online lecture provides the students with the interactivity they might otherwise miss by not attending face to face.
In addition, there is user-friendly technology (for example, Echo Personal Capture at ANU) that enables lecturers to make a personal recording of themselves giving a talk on a topic, then upload it to a Learning Management System such as Moodle or Blackboard. This can be combined with other digital tools to create activities such as quizzes and discussions around the lecturer-generated talk. The coming introduction of Echo Active Learning Platform at ANU will open up a whole new range of possibilities in this regard.
With these possibilities, what is the role of the live, face to face university lecture in the future?
An automated future
There are increasingly loud voices predicting the automation of just about everything. The really big picture regarding the fate of the lecture must therefore consider the impact of automation on higher education. Another subject for a whole Coffee Course! Some questions to be considered might be:
In a future where many jobs will be lost to automation, what are we educating for? How much of education will be more about creativity, reflection, self-development on the one hand, and the transfer of technical skills on the other hand? Will these areas of education require mass lecture halls or will they be based on small group discussion and collaboration? (Horizon Report, 2017, p. 14)
Will much of education become automated, with the advent of learner analytics combined with “intelligent tutoring” systems? (Horizon Report; p. 38, Alli et al, 2016)
“Infotainment” replacing traditional instruction?
It can safely be said that generally, lectures today are not primarily designed for instruction using a simple one-way transfer of skills. The requirements for learning professional skills are now far more complex and multi-faceted. Group collaboration and problem-solving where knowledge is applied are key processes in students acquiring the graduate learning outcomes desired by future employers in their professional areas.
The university lecture, Ted Talk style!
Returning to the hugely popular Ted Talks as a model, it is possible that lectures may survive the digital age in the form of dramatic, staged events that pull in not only student audiences, but world wide public audiences. We see this in many events now staged by universities everywhere. For example, take a look at ANU’s events page. What is being advertised here are public events that provide education on a wide range of topics.
Relating this back to a practical level of every day academic teaching at university, can we envisage a learning program in which, along side digital learning environments and face to face applied workshops, there is a program of exciting lecture events where the academics and their associates share cutting edge research with their students? These events might be rare, for example one per term. There would be no need to demand compulsory attendance because they would be a “must see,” a rare and valued event that students are privileged to go to as part of their enrolment in a course, as opposed to the paying public. Online and face to face course activities and materials could be built around these events.
What do you think? Can you imagine a structure like this in your course? Do you have a research interest that you would like to share with students in more dramatic, staged presentations, to pique their interest and imaginations?
University cultural and policy responses
As is obvious to most of those at the cutting edge of providing education in universities, all this vision needs to be underpinned by support and development for those charged with delivering the goods. Not everyone has the skills to stage a lecture as a public and exciting event. And it takes a great deal of planning and support to pull one off.
The digital revolution in learning has not uniformly been met within individual universities with clear policies and an articulated culture embracing the change.
What needs to change in the management and administration of universities to encourage this culture? What policies need to be developed to articulate the requirements for education in a digital age? (Gregory & Lodge, 2015).
Lots of questions are raised in this segment. Choose any, or raise any of your own, to discuss. What do you think is the future of the lecture? What changes have you seen in the practice of lecturing from your days as a student, or your early days as a lecturer?
Suggested resources for further thinking
- The traditional lecture is dead – I would know, I’m a professor
- Future Perfect – What will universities look like in 2030?
- Automation puts universities at risk: UC lecture
- Virtual campus: online universities are the future of higher education
- Summary of Freeman article listed in references below
- Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freman, A., Hall Giesinger, C., & Ananthanarayanan, V., (2017), NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition, Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium
- Alli, N, Rajan, R. & Ratliff, G., 2016, “How personalised learning unlocks student success” in Educause Review, Mar 7, 2016
- Freeman, S. et al 2014 “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics” in Proceedings of the National Academcy of Sciences of the USA, 2014 Vol 111, no. 23
- French, S. and Kennedy, G., (2016) “Reassessing the value of university lectures” in Teaching in Higher Education, Volume 22, no. 6, pp 639-654, 2016
- Gregory, S & Lodge, J. (2015) “Academic workload: the silent barrier to the implementation of technology-enhanced learning strategies in higher education” in Distance Education, 2015, Vol 36, No. 2, pp 210-230
- Howitt, C. and Pegrum, M. (2015). “Implementing a flipped classroom approach in postgraduate education: An unexpected journey into pedagogical redesign.” Australasian Journal of Education Technology. Vol 31, No 4.
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