Day 6: The Big Picture – What’s next for lectures?

Oxford universityThe 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! 

Antique printing press
Antique printing press

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.

Sculpture of ancient scholar

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! 

Image of man with bow and arrow at Ted talk
Attribution: http://blog.ted.com/10-best-photos-from-ted/

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 


Let us know what you thought.

We welcome your feedback and comments on the content, facilitation, and topics offered in the coffee courses. Please complete our short, anonymous survey to let us know what you thought, or you are welcome to comment on the blog post.

44 thoughts on “Day 6: The Big Picture – What’s next for lectures?

  1. Wow. What a lot of things to consider. Here are a few of my final thoughts on it. Is it a rant? It might be. Sorry.

    *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?

    Developing new skills in higher education I think will be one of the most important changes to come about from this ‘revolution’. Most significantly because the information is everywhere, it is in the delivery that universities can differentiate themselves. Educators will have to learn how to educate. To put it bluntly. In the younger academics, there seems to be a trend of people looking to improve their teaching, and to branch out into new territory. However, in the older, more established academics, I see trends of refusal to use technology, insistence on long boring lectures and so on. Most academics are not formally taught how to teach. I would suggest that all academics will soon be required to do teaching courses in order to teach UG students, if not a qualification in it. I would hope for them all to be able to use resources in their universities effectively, but seeing the trends, I suspect that it is more likely that academics will have to learn skills such as video editing, and web design, and even graphic design, animation, performance and so on. It will be the creative skills that make courses.

    *So is the lecture finally dead as some are proclaiming? If not, in what transformations will take place to the lecture, in our times?

    I don’t think that the lecture should exist in its current format. Even just the idea that students will sit in a classroom for 1 hour (or 50 minutes) will be difficult to process. I see great learning happening in discussion groups, hands on work, independent research projects, and student-led initiatives. If our goal is to teach students the skills of a university – critical thought, writing, research, and so on – then lectures don’t really fit into that model. They are more about the course knowledge than the skills.

    While course knowledge is extremely valuable, and necessary for university education, we need to think also about the way that we are assessing students – as what they learn and how they learn it will influence how we assess them. We should not expect students to spit back names and dates if the focus on the course is practical applications of knowledge. And vice versa. I would also suggest that the idea of only one person teaching the whole course is outdated. If lectures happen, I like the idea of the special event lecture, shorter, plenty of time for engagement, with different experts from across the fields.

    *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? 

    So much needs to change. There is a tendency of universities at the moment to want to improve teaching, say that they are, and then leave it up to individual academics to work out how to do it. All the while, rewarding and valuing research far more than teaching. Universities will need to allocate time and money, and other resources for teachers to develop these types of teaching materials – e.g. a video lecture animation studio that will animate the lecturers words as in RSA Animate https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL39BF9545D740ECFF . Turnaround times between semesters and the amount of administrative work that lecturers need to do also impacts on the possibility of developing new and more engaging course material. They would need to be supported to make something that is essentially a hard task easier, without impacting on their research or other responsibilities.

    Finally, there needs to be better communication across disciplines as well as within disciplines about the methods and innovations happening, not just about what was done in the class, but how the teachers got to that point as well. It’s one thing to know that you can do all these wonderful things in a course, but to actually apply those things to your course and integrate it smoothly so they don’t jar with everything else, AND to actually come up with the ideas to begin with, is a difficult task.

    Thanks so much for the coffee course, and to all the discussion on all the posts. I’ve really enjoyed it.

    1. Hi Lauren, thanks for your excellent contribution – lots of thoughts there. And you are right that universities as institutions will need to change the way they support lecturers and teaching. I am not sure that academics will necessarily have to develop web and video editing skills if that is not what they want to do, it is really up to the universities to provide this expertise, from people who can work on course design with the academics. Although some academics will of course want to do their own design and will go to the effort to develop the relevant skills. Your idea about cross discipline communication about methods and techniques for course design is very relevant.

  2. Lot’s of very good questions. Regarding the statement that we have all the knowledge at our fingertips on the web, just want to point out the caveats there:
    1. while we can find lots of wonderful resources, we also have a lot of ‘rubbish’ online as well. ‘Fake news, face data, fake ideas’. One of the main tasks would be to teach students how to read and assess what they read. As we were taught how to use a library when we were students, we need to teach them how to use the www library. We need to teach them how to critique read material and how to make sure they not just stick with one resource they find and take it as is. (I had examples where students asked me a question based on a fundamentally wrong idea, and when I questioned them about the concept they told me I was wrong because they red it otherwise online, they even showed me the source)
    2. www is huge and ever increasing, Consequently, the resources are numerous, way more than we can deal with in a normal 24-hour day. One of the role we can play in student learning is to guide them to the important points/concepts so that they are not lost in details. This is where concept or overview lectures come handy.
    We have been talking about changes in the traditional lecture format, though I’m still not sure what is the ‘traditional’ format, as even within the space of the ‘traditional’ lecturer-standing-in-front-of-the-audience, you can create interactive and exciting lectures, as we learnt in the past 5 days from each other and the literature (thank you for all those guys!). On the other hand, a ‘modern’ lecture style can be just as bad as a boring lecturer reading the pages of their own book for the class (I had that experience in my university years). So I guess I’m back to the point, that enthusiastic and knowledgeable lecturers can create a wonderful lecture environment by trying new things and/or introducing a variety in their delivery of the topics.
    But we have another factor in this equation: the students. Maybe they would also need some education about the benefits of the changing face of teaching, as I have been experiencing a lot of resistence from students. I can put up short videos, e-learning lessons, pre-readings…etc, if they don’t see or understand the point of the change, they stubbornly ask for a lecture when they can sit quietly and just listen, or zone out in peace or make purchases online in the comfort of the seat of the lecture theatre. (I had similar experience with practical sessions, as students give better feedback on the ‘traditional’ sessions where the academic gives a demonstration/mini lecture and then students can mill around the class until it is time to leave, as opposed to sessions where students need to go through a series of activities and demonstrate their preparedness)
    I guess my point is that change is here and is good but we all have to be on the same page as to the benefits and the relevance of any new approach we introduce.

  3. This is all getting a bit diffuse.
    yes anybody can access vast informationon the internet or read a textbook. There is an overwhelming amount of information and resources out there and the point of a course or a lecture is to present a topic. The live lecture provides students with an experience with their peers. The lecturer pulls together information from diverse sources and their experience to create a unique view. What I am hoping for is to improve my skills repertoire to utilise new tech options.

    1. Krisztina and John, thanks for your thoughts.

      You are right, lecturers/academics have the important role of curating the vast amount of information out there, providing conceptual frameworks, and guiding students in navigating it all. And of course they are there to motivate and inspire students about a particular field. As you say, John, it will help to develop the technical skills and knowledge that will assist you with this task.

      This last post on our blog of course is about the “big picture” and is asking you to stretch your imaginations to what might be coming next and what might be possible – perhaps not as practical as previous posts, but an important area to consider!

  4. * What new skills will be required in people who are tasked with higher education?

    The skills needed for HE people are in teaching, educational design, course design, program design, and in the costing and evaluation of programs. Those skills can be got with formal education, such as a Grad Cert and MEd (as I did).

    The digital revolution I suggest is only an enabler in terms of cultural change at universities, the driver is the move for greater inclusion in education. The real revolution is the idea that anyone should be able to go to university and this is a preparation for work, not just a way to train a few researchers.

    Around the world, “open” universities have lead this revolution and in Australia the former teacher colleges and regional universities. The prestigious city based research universities have failed to innovate and have been playing catch-up, with marketing gimmicks, such as “free” MOOCs.

  5. I would be really sad to see the lecture die. As both a student and sessional lecturer I love the lecture experience and I’ve had very positive feedback from students. As I’ve said in other posts, I really feel the enthusiasm, passion and excitement that a presenter can convey via lecture is unique and I think a lot of students find this to be one of the most engaging parts of learning.
    I believe the lecture format is changing to some extent, and presenters are more mindful of ensuring their lectures are also visually engaging often through use of short clips. I think there have been some good tips for improving the lecture format in this course and I’ll certainly be using some in the future. I hope lectures will become a bit more dynamic.
    I think when students reach a university level they are not yet ready to undertake research on the internet completely independently – I think they still need guidance at this stage to understand how to identify and acquire quality resources and a balanced perspective.
    I would hate to see the lecture die but I think a lot of the responsibility for its survival falls on presenters – we have to try and maintain our excitement and passion, and when that dies off I think it’s right to question whether we should continue lecturing or not. We also need to be ready to welcome change and adopt new technologies whilst retaining the integrity of the lecture.

    1. I agree with Clare that I would be very sad to see the lecture die. I always found (good) lectures to be a very enjoyable and energising experience. This was both as I could, as Clare says, feel the passion of the lecturer but also as they provided a sense of community and a place for me to meet fellow students. I think a lot of students are missing this sense of being in a cohort, and the opportunity to make social connections, with the move to widespread online learning. I hope if we do move away from in-person lectures, there are significant attempts to foster this sense of community and social engagement in on line spaces.

  6. Over the past 20 years I have seen the nature of the student cohort change significantly. The widening of participation in university education has resulted in a great increase in diversity of student preferred learning styles and motivations. As educators we must adapt our teaching to encompass this shift away from a purely “academic” and intrinsically motivated group of students.

    I few years ago, a colleague’s response to suggestions that he adapted his teaching from chalk-and-talk lectures (with lots of equations) was “if they cannot learn like this they should not be at university”. This was later adapted to “…if they don’t like my lectures, they are studying the wrong subject”. Thankfully, current university lecturers seem much more willing to embrace a wider range of teaching styles and techniques.

    I think it is important not to get too distracted by the technology, and spend too much time making perfect online presentations. A lot can be achieved with a webcam, or just using a mobile phone held over the desk as a doc-cam. The skill of a good lecturer translate, whatever the medium… clear simple points, constructing the learning and not talking too fast etc.

    For top universities (like ANU) with a strong desire to deliver research-led education, I believe that there will always be a place for good lectures. A significant number of students want this as one of the ways to interact with the institution. Maybe this is the cohort of students who would have gone to university 20-30 years ago anyway, but not necessarily so. However, the student group are consumers of our education product, and they should be given the choice of a variety of ways to access it. For me, I try to remember that there are two reasons to offer this variety: to address the different learning styles/preferences of the whole student cohort; but also to allow equal opportunity to students with different personal circumstances. Simply recording the lecture addresses the latter group more. If I am more creative with my use of technology and resources, I hope to also improve the learning outcomes for the former group also.

    1. Hi Brian, excellent points and you are right to point out that technology is just a tool, not the be-all and end-all in education. Catering to different learning styles and for those physically unable to attend lectures has definitely become more important, and obviously technology can help with that.

    2. Brian I really appreciated your comments. I have also had experiences similar to yours with academics who strongly feel that students should learn the way they themselves learned. I similarly find the need to offer variety is a key way to address student diversity. Thanks!

  7. Hi everybody,
    Some really good comments by everybody so far.
    I was wondering – with regard to change in culture and the future. Do you think the changing nature in HE will mean that there may be a change in the lecturers themselves? In the past (pre books) you needed the esteemed Professor who knew everything about the topic. Even 20 years ago, it was the lecturer who had read many books and therefore knew much of the subject material. Now, with a quick search of the internet, students can find up to date knowledge on almost any topic. The lecturer of the future as has been pointed out may be more focused on entertainment, engaging students or translating knowledge to practical skills and outcomes rather than a repository of knowledge themselves. Thus lecturers of the future may be less qualified for their role because of “research and knowledge” which academics are traditionally trained and gifted in and more qualified by education training and skill (which teachers are trained and gifted in).

    1. Hi David, thanks for your interesting questions. I think that the academics who are gifted researchers and have cutting edge knowledge in their field are very much needed by students, to share their knowledge through lectures and any other medium possible. And I did bring up “infotainment” almost with tongue in cheek. I think what others have said here about collating and curating the vast amounts of knowledge out there for a student cohort, and in providing “navigation guides” to the relevant sources is a major role of educators/lecturers/academics now.

  8. * 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?

    Yes, recently I presented a hypothetical on cyber-warfare over the South China Sea, to teach professional ethics. This has become less hypothetical with the Australian Defence Force setting up an Information Warfare Division a few days ago. 😉

    The urge to make education interesting and topical has to be balanced against the need to make it well designed, achievable and tested. We do our students a disservice, and can cause them real harm, if we give the impression that learning is always easy and fun. Students who do not find it easy and fun can think there is something wrong with them, and this can result in mental illness and self harm.

    As a recent student myself, I did not find TED videos useful. I found these TV-evangelist style videos to be particularly annoying and more a form of brainwashing than education. Being a student is not some form of casual entertainment for me, it is a serious, expensive investment.

    We can provide topical entertaining bits in courses, but should not let this distract from the long, slow, hard struggle which learning is. It is easy to provide the students with a lot of entertaining videos and lots of papers to read. However, we need to make clear what it is they are meant to be learning and check we are asking them to do a reasonable amount of work to learn it.

    1. I think these are very valid points, Tom. Some TED talks certainly do seem very evangelistic! Perhaps a better model might be the videos on Khan Academy?

    2. I was really struck by Tom’s comment ‘We do our students a disservice, and can cause them real harm, if we give the impression that learning is always easy and fun’. I think there’s a lot of truth in this. I try to give my students the message ‘Yes, learning this stuff is difficult and takes perseverance, but it’s worth it and I know you can do it’. I was intrigued by the prediction in the Future Perfect article that the development of measures of comparative student learning outcomes will transform higher education. Maybe it will give us all incentives to encourage our students to persevere with the hard stuff rather than to merely entertain them.

  9. Thinking about whether lectures are dead or dying …

    I surely hope they are not. And from what I hear throughout the discussions they won’t be. Personally, I think a lecture as such is very valuable if done well (whatever that means). A textbook cannot compete with a well-designed lecture in terms of summarizing, interpreting and making the knowledge relevant in the “now” context. . The question is how this is to be delivered?

    It seems that a strong online component has the benefits of timeless access and often suits the students needs if an unclear section can be repeated. It also suits some students’ learning type. I would regret to see the face-to-face interaction be abandoned altogether. From personal experience but also from what students have told me, there is another dimension and intensity of interaction and communication when the lecturer is physically present – that’s why we still go to live performances as someone pointed out a few days ago.

    Now, I am a big fan of combining learning approaches. While I would appreciate a series of lectures it seems most effective to me to intersperse the knowledge delivery with more hands on sessions such as flipped classroom approaches.

    As to students researching a problem to be solved in the classroom, I agree that it is important to learn how to find information, but as pointed out by others, there is a wealth of information to be accessed on the web but it is not always clear which information is trustworthy. So perhaps it is also responsibility of the educators to teach how to critically evaluate sources?

    That leads me to another thought about the roles of educators. There are many (from my perspective) and in many cases we don’t have the formal training as academics to fill them all. Educators convey knowledge. In Sciences this is rapidly changing and requires constant learning to be up-to-date. Educators are also meant to prepare student for life. So we really have to think what social and technical skills we need to to promote in students to be able to make the most of themselves – not just in the academic world. This means integrating technological advances into our teaching methods to “teach” new was of communication, for example. Todays’ students come from many diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. As the educator we need to understand the potential barriers for teacher-student interaction and communication that my reside in cultural differences and be innovative how to break those down. Not any easy task. Again a lot of learning for the educator. And finally, educators are fellow human being to student. I think they should lead by example at all levels – and that is perhaps the greatest challenge and contribution educators can make.

    I’ll stop now. Too much ranting.
    Thank you for this excellent and stimulating coffee course.

    1. Britta, thanks so much for your substantial post – certainly more than a rant! You are right, we should have added “critical evaluation skills” to our list of what roles the lecturer plays as an educator in a world of so much real and fake knowledge in cyber space – to add to our previous list which included curating and collating vast amounts of information, and providing navigation guidance.

      You have done a fantastic summary of the many facets of a HE educator/lecturer/academic in today’s world. How do we manage so many facets and what support should universities as institutions be providing for these, is a central question, looking to the future.

  10. I think the future of lecture would be definitely different from what we are accustomed to. Already the new technology has revolutionized the lecture and how the students learn. When I was a student, we didn’t have access to internet and were dependent on the lectures. Missing a lecture would mean that you had to borrow notes from other students which was not always very useful. These days, you ask a question and the students’ Google it immediately and provide you with the latest information. Most of the time the teachers are learning on how to catch up with the new technologies that the students are using.
    So the lectures are already transforming. The teachers who are not up to date with new technologies are at loss as students of this age get bored easily and we have to explore new methods to keep them engaged. Lectures are one way communication, students learn more when there is two way communication, discussions, and group work.
    I think as teachers we have to provide guidance to students about how to use technology for their studies, but for that we have to be knowledgeable ourselves. So training teachers on appropriate teaching technologies and how to use them is important. There is so much information available on the internet which is unreliable in many cases. But many students do not have an idea of what is reliable or not. I see my students start with Wikipedia and then gradually more to more reliable sources as they receive guidance.
    So teaching and learning has changed overtime and is evolving rapidly. We as teachers have to keep pace with it and try to accustom ourselves with new techniques of teaching and learning.
    Thank you for the great coffee course.

    1. Hi Tehzeeb, thanks for your thoughtful contributions during this course. I think you are right that academics/lecturer need support and training to get their heads around the technology so many students are using – and of course this is a dynamic and changing field so we are all learning all the time!

  11. I have little idea what lectures will be like 25 years from now. I would be surprised if any forecast by me would have any accuracy.

    If the flipped classroom or more lecturer-student interaction is used, then future tertiary education may be more labour-intensive and require higher quality instructors than currently. An advantage of the current lecture format are the scale economies, e.g., have one lecturer teach a class with 200 students rather than two lecturers each with a class of 100. While the ANU may have a low staff-student ratio, I believe Marnie Hughes-Warrington, ANU’s DVC(A), has stated that 90% of equivalent full time student unit teaching (EFTSUs) is taught by 10% of the ANU academic staff. These scale economies help float a research-intensive institution.

    Many, if not most, of the alternatives to traditional lectures seem to me to rely on smaller group instruction which will require more staff per EFTSU and is thus more expensive. In addition, the experience of one school in my Coll. of Business and Economics indicates that running a group workshop or flipped classroom requires higher quality tutors. That is, tutors that have better command on the material as well as teaching skills (e.g., ability to think on their feet) will be needed.

    Regarding what might replace the lecture, I wonder whether teaching-intensive rather than research-intensive institutions will be a better bellwether. In particular, small, so-called liberal arts colleges in the US are known to emphasize teaching, hire high quality staff, and provide excellent education. They are not the same as large research-intensive institutions since they don’t rely on large lectures given their much small enrollments although lectures are still the norm, I believe. Their greater emphasis on the educational objective, however, suggests their staff will have greater institutional incentives to pursue and experiment with new and perhaps better modes of instruction.

    1. Hi Chen, thanks for that clear thinking with some real figures for us to consider. My own thought on this is that surely research can be integrated more with teaching in some way – that is, the researcher shares his/her process and findings with students as s/he goes. I am not convinced we need a divide between “research” and “teaching” – because some how the research and the associated techniques must be conveyed to new entrants to a field. My other thought is that a one way lecture to mass audience is not really “teaching” or “educating” but more of a conveyance of information to a receptive/passive audience. That is not to say this format has no place in university education, it could be that it is an important part of ensuring students have access to information. Many participants in this coffee course have put forward some great ideas about how these different formats could be mixed an matched, as in small interactive groups, large lectures, and online supplementation. But as you say, it is ultimately a resource decision by the institution, as to how they want to proceed, what they are prepared to resource to bring about any change they may see as necessary. I believe it needs careful analysis and costing.

  12. Thanks. This coffee course has been very helpful.

    I found the discussion thread from today’s blog to be the most interesting of the course.

    Along with numerous commentors above, I believe that with the expansion of the volume of information available digitally, it is even more incumbent on educators to synthesis material and provide a ‘way in’ for students to being to navigate the material on their own terms. Making sense of the world is an increasingly difficult task and it is vital this is demonstrated to students in various ways.

    I think there is a future for the lecture, if only because I continue to enjoy going to many of them!

    1. Thanks Ben, I think if there is one conclusion we have all reached during this coffee course it is that there is an immense amount of material out there that can include fake and misleading information, and that educators have a primary role in helping student critically evaluate and navigate through this.

  13. These Coffee Courses are just getting better and better. So thank you all, as I now have some wonderful new ideas and resources to consider.

    My approach to lectures changed when I stopped looking at them as two 50 min sessions a week, but part of a course that demands, on average, 10 hours of commitment by each student per week. As a consequence, the delivery mode I use has become driven by the learning objectives of my courses. Thus, some lecture slots are the more traditional delivery of information, others are group activities, others are delivered by guests and others are merged into larger blocks of time. For example, I use some “lecture” time as part of longer practical exercises, I require students to use some of their “lecture” time to do work experience and I use some “lecture” time to take students away for an extended field trip each semester. Thus, the “lecture” is becoming increasingly difficult for me to define. Looking around, I can see increasing diversity in the way university education is being delivered, probably for the same reason. While I wouldn’t say the lecture is dead, I would suggest that the traditional 50 min lecture slot will represent a decreasing proportion of the way that the spectrum of university education is delivered.

    1. Hi Phil, what a great approach you are developing in your teaching – to re-conceptualise the teaching program in the way you have described is a major revolution in one’s thinking, it would seem to me! Thanks for sharing your approach here, and for your other thoughtful commentary in this course.

  14. Earlier this year, I spent a few weeks at a young Nordic university which places great emphasis on group, collaborative learning. All the teaching rooms were especially designed for that purpose (very cosy, very nice, very conducive to group discussion). I had the opportunity to interact with a few groups. What I found extremely interesting was that technology did not seem to play much of a role in this type of small-group interaction-based learning at all. Since not many universities outside of English speaking countries use lecture recordings, there wasn’t a great deal of discussion on the role of technology either (although I witnessed very advanced infrastructure that supports ‘studying’).

    As I didn’t spend a long time there, I am still curious to find out how students actually come to have a good grasp of the basis of a system of knowledge within a discipline and the ability to think critically.

    1. Hi Veronica, thanks for sharing your experiences at a Nordic university, with the emphasis on group learning and how the physical teaching environments were set up to support this.
      There’s so much we can learn and share about cross-cultural approaches to teaching and learning I think.

  15. Very interesting points and many questions to address. I have two main points to add.

    My understanding is that many academics do not want to lecture, but have to teach. This creates problems for students as they need lecturers who are willing and able to teach. Often these academics are happier researching and not teaching. Has this perhaps contributed to the near-death of lectures in some incidences?

    Australia’s HE sector (and Australia) relies on international student fees, which I believe has a strong influence on how universities structure their learning. For example, a post-grad degree can cost international students up to $60k so they have more purchasing power than Australian students. How do countries like Finland manage to offer highly subsidised HE to its citizens and Australia is increasing the fees for both domestic and international students. These issues influence how, what and who we teach.

    Thank you for a very interesting course.

    1. Thanks Tatia – I imagine balancing the roles of lecturer and researcher could be tricky at times, and some academics may naturally have a preference for one role over the other.
      Yes it would be interesting to learn more about the Finnish model in comparison to ours. There is always things to learn from other places!

  16. Hi,
    thanks for an interesting thread above. Phil’s reconceptualisation of the ways in which lecture time can be aligned with the LOs was really thought-provoking; diversification seems to be a consistent theme across much of the discussion to date – whether that’s applied across the course as a whole or within individual lecture slots. Ben’s comment too about the way we use the lecture to offer ways into material is really valuable – again, what we think of as the primary purpose(s) of the lecture will shape how we use that time with students.
    Thanks for a great course.

    1. Thanks Tania – I think we learn so much from sharing with each other.
      Thank you too for your participation in this course and your thoughtful comments.

  17. I think that even if they are starting to loose relative importance, lectures will remain a part of the future of universities for a long time to come. I think that it is a false dichotomy to say there are either lectures or engaging hands activities. Learning interesting facts from someone who knows more than you can be an inspiring occasion in any context, even if it is in the form of passively listening to one persons monolog. Think about that fascinating person you met a dinner party one time who completely exposed you to some new idea or piece of knowledge that you had no idea about, its exhilarating. And while Im a firm believer in the benefits of student led learning, I really believe there is still a strong place for lectures. The issue is, as always, how to turn experts into entertainers. There are lots of general courses like this or other things offered by CHELT which are really useful but I wonder if in the future there would be funding for something like one on one mentoring or assistance for people to really work up their specific lectures or course into those ‘must see’ events. Who knows… 🙂

  18. This blog post raises an interesting idea about the TED talk. The reputation of a TED talk highlights its showmanship and fashion forward data visualizations. It’s glossy, it’s slick and it goes viral. Comparing the TED talks to the TEDx talks and what you see is far less powerful talks using the same technologies and attitudes but that are far less inspiring and engaging than the official conference. Part of the reason for this is explained in Chris Anderson’s ‘Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking’.

    Anderson explains how closely the TED team work with their speakers in the official event to hone their narrative, their examples, their cadence, their delivery etc. Stage demonstrations exist to concisely show an idea very quickly without the possibility of technology to fritz.

    The lesson of TED for me is that the talks are most successful when they’re rehearsed until the point of fluency. Being prepared is the key point Chris Anderson (the organizer of TED) makes. Preparing the structure and the delivery meticulously to ensure that the talk is boiled down to convey one idea “worth spreading” that the audience can take away with them.

    For TED, the one idea aim makes the talks shorter but I think this is something that lectures can benefit from. I always aim to get this one idea through in my lecture and use everything else as a support for this one idea. There are implications for conveying one idea though – it’s the lecturers idea and if a lecture is designed to summarize reading material and provide one point of focus – do we want to persuade our students through our lectures? Or do we want to provide them with information for them to synthesize. Both have implications for student engagement and the role of the student in the Lecture.

  19. I think lectures are currently far from dead and I think there will always be a place for having a ‘role model’ passing on their knowledge and experience to students. What I think might change as we move forward and integrate new technologies into education, is the degree of personalisation in teaching. I can envisage use of virtual reality and other methods to address gaps in student’s knowledge, and I can see new forms of more accurate assessment being used to tailor individual student learning.
    As others have pointed out, just having access to information is not enough for students. They still need to be guided through the available information and they need to learn how to critically assess the information as well. In science, students need to learn by doing and they need to gain experience in order to become critical thinkers. I don’t think this process can be automated. But, I do think that there is scope for students working closely with technology in a one-to-one capacity. Their understanding of concepts could be assessed by their ability to make certain linkages rather than to answer questions correctly, and this could lead on to identifying areas where they need help or further expansion. I’m thinking of the book series, ‘Ender’s Game’, where Ender as an adult had a computer program that talked right into his ear – maybe in the future, everyone will have a personalised ‘Google’s assistant’ or ‘Siri’ to guide their education? But, they’ll still need someone to be a real role model, and they’ll still need to interact with their peers.

  20. I’ve been thinking about all these questions for a while, and there is some great discussion here already. It is obvious that the world is changing and higher education has to adapt. Something that I would like to throw in there as a possibility is that there seems to be a tendency towards a clearer distinction between teaching and research, and I am wondering whether this will eventually result in academics doing the research and educational developers working together with them to build (online) courses taught by teaching staff. This would result in a system where only post-graduate students are taught by researchers.

  21. The lecture will stay. It is still an important part of teaching. But as we’ve pointed out in this course, there will be changes in the way that it is delivered. Lecturers as Tom W pointed out will need to upskill on learning design as well. I don’t think it is enough that you’re a subject matter expert if you decide to teach. The learning spaces should change also. We need more flexible learning spaces if we are to accommodate and embrace the changes that we want to happen in lectures to achieve active learning.

  22. This has been one of the best Coffee Courses. It has raised a lot of very important questions that we need to think about as Higher Education professionals. Thank you to ANU Online. I learned so much from the participants.

    1. Aww thanks Kat! I really appreciate that! I have to say that this was one of my favourite courses to write and facilitate because of the richness of the discussion. Lots to think about for the future of the lecture at ANU and other universities!

  23. I would be more than happy, in my own courses, to change from a lecture format to a seminar format. I’ve thought about this a lot since a colleague of mine who has recently moved to ANU after teaching at an American university for several years told me that this is how her old department taught. Rather than having a two-hour lecture, one-hour tutorial format per week, I’d love to change to two 1.5-hour seminars a week, incorporating short lecture-type presentations, activities and discussion. This makes so much more sense to me. However, it obviously depends on capped course enrolments. I might be able to manage up to 50 students in a seminar, but fewer would be preferable. At the moment, my courses usually have between 70 and 100 students (relatively low, I know, compared to some disciplines). The university would have to provide the resources to make this kind of change possible in my department, but I think it would be better for teachers and students. It’s just my pipe dream, for the time being!

    1. But it’s a beautiful dream! 🙂 I found that for myself as well, when the course I was teaching changed from 1 hr lecture and 2 hour tutorial to be a 3 hour block. It worked so much more nicely to discuss the concept in a briefer way and then go straight to doing an activity about it! It did mean I had to do a few more repeats in order to get all the students though – teaching interactively at scale is so much more challenging! Something I am noticing at ANU more and more now is large classes with multiple teaching staff all in the room at the same time, which I think is a lovely idea and helps to combine the efficiency of scale with the intimacy and connectedness of a nice tutorial-size group. But I’m sure it has its own challenges!

      1. Thanks Katie! I’ve heard about these large classes with multiple teaching staff and I’m curious how it works. As others have discussed, the design of the classrooms plays an important role in how you can interact with students. I really would prefer smaller rooms than the large tiered lecture theatres I’m usually allocated. I’m sure I could negotiate this with my School, if I get in early.

        1. Hi Christina, those large classes with lots of people teaching simultaneously are becoming increasingly common at ANU. It’s interesting because there is something about the economy of scale when teaching large groups of students all at once, but I wonder if that still is economical when paying 5+ teaching staff to all be present in the room at the same time! But I also think it takes a very particular skill set to essential run the lecture and the tutorials all at the same time. One question that I am trying to think about is how this mode might make engaging with the course less flexible if all the classes are held only at one time per week – if you are sick or miss out, there aren’t other opportunities for you to get that experience. Something I am thinking about anyway!

  24. We certainly need to rethink what content are we needing to communicate to students and what might be the best mode for delivering that content. Lectures might not always be the best mode at any one time. The flexibility to reconfigure that content into different formats though takes a lot of thought and time. Something which we struggle to find at times. Becoming familiar with the different modes or formats, like through these coffee courses, is a really useful way to start the conversation with students about why they cannot attend lectures, and what they like and need, and modes they find most effective for learning.

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