This piece was written by LabArchives user, Gareth Denyer, Professor of Biochemical Education at The University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia.

Gareth Denyer

Ten Reasons Why Lectures Won’t Go Back to the Way They Were

Overview

The transition to on-line delivery has revolutionised our entire approach to lecturing.  This article looks at the many ways in which the experimentation with eLearning and communication tools has peaked into an unprecedentedly creative, responsive and student-centred delivery.

Background

As academics passionate about our discipline, we relish the opportunity to inspire students through the performance of the traditional lecture. However, this picture paints an all-too familiar scene of woeful attendance. Fronting up to nearly empty lecture theatres to repeat a narrative that had been recorded some twenty times before seems unwarranted and absurdly archaic.  Indeed, a decade ago we tried to answer the question of why in-person lectures were still the norm (1). 

1.  Change is Now Expected Rather than Resisted

Lecture ‘flipping’ provides a good example of how the on-line teaching climate has compelled changes in the status quo. In a ‘flipped lecture’ the lecture time is used for extension activities or explanations as students have listened to a lecture recording before hand. Occasionally students will even listen to the lecture AFTER those in-class activities.

Historically, flipping lectures was the preserve of the innovators.  Previously, the momentum invested into finely-tuned slide packs and well-rehearsed delivery – combined with a fear of ‘not being in control’ – made the inertia insurmountable for many. 

2. Instant Feedback in On-Line Delivery has made Flipping more Agile and Experimental

With the lecture rule book thrown out of the window, lecturers have the latitude to experiment freely.  They can make mistakes without too much judgement, and they can be agile and flexible in response to the student voice reflected via polling and chat features in the delivery software.  Additionally, there is latitude to make workbooks and worksheets for students to complete during class, which can be eye-balled by the academic at a helicopter-level and a leisurely, reflective pace.

3. Lecture Content can be Captured in a Fraction of the Scheduled Time

To support the flipping process, many academics have created formal, narrated versions of their lectures. Some find it convenient to split the lecture into bite-sized chunks. Some capture their insight in a formal, high-production value masterpiece. Whatever they do, nearly all of them are able to deliver a 50-minute lecture in half the time. The ability to include automated captions further increases the utility and inclusivity of lectures. This format renders them even easier for the students to engage at double speed, or to browse the collection ahead of schedule, thus granting them full control of their engagement.

4. On-line Question Coverage Improves and Multiplies the Assessment Items

Traditional ‘face-to-face’ (F2F) flipped classes discuss past paper questions, which allows academics to reflect on the performance of assessment items and approaches.   The on-line environment takes this to the next level by getting input and genuine suggestion from students in real time.  This approach not only reveals student misconceptions and perceptions, but also allows their insights to be built into iterations of the questions or to spawn new questions.

5. On-line Flipping Gives Opportunities to Teach SAQ Techniques

Even in traditional F2F flipped classrooms, providing coaching on Short Answer Question (SAQ) answering strategy tends to be didactic.  The tutor can encourage student discussion and collaboration in the planning, organisation and articulation of SAQs, but it is generally impractical to give any meaningful academic assessment of student output.  In contrast, collaboration sites like Padlet makes this practical to choreograph at both the overarching and granular levels.  As with (4.), the intelligence we get from their responses is profound and impacts on our teaching and assessment strategies.

6. On-line Interaction is Healthy for Students

Or at least, it provides an extra forum for engagement.  Some students thrive in the F2F area, some feel more comfortable behind a screen.  The move to on-line teaching has shown that mixing up classes has the potential to give all students a fair go, regardless of their comfort levels in ‘normal’ F2F interactions.  The random allocation of students to discussion groups in Zoom breakout rooms has allowed cross-clique collaborations and, perhaps, even facilitated new friendships, further increasing the variety and richness of the student experience.  We have noticed that on-line discussions are more academically-focussed; in F2F tutorials there are often increased distractions from the need to be ‘sociable’.  When F2F teaching returns, we should keep some of these on-line sessions for equality, focus and variety.   

7. On-line Teaching Prompts Reflection on the Strengths of F2F Learning

Doing everything on-line has had its drawbacks.  Acknowledgement of what we have missed about F2F and what we haven’t will allow us to concoct the ideal blended experience.  Aside from the obvious in our field (i.e., the hands-on ‘bench’ experience), the main thing we have missed is the ability to counsel students around assessments, deadlines and workloads.  Despite the provision of a responsive discussion board, student anxieties would have been more easily allayed in F2F mode. 

8. On-line Teaching Changes Thinking about Infrastructure and Timetabling

When a new campus or precinct is being conceived, lecture theatres will surely not be the first item on the list now!  More than that, we can also conceive of complete changes to our timetable, with, say, classes early morning, late at night, and even delivered by virtual reality.  The latter point is not trite: if this crisis had happened at a time when HoloLens are consumer-level items (with the penetrance of mobile phones in the student cohort), all our classes could have been delivered in a collaborative virtual space.

9. On-line Platforms Encourage Teaching beyond “Delivering Lectures”

When early-career academics request teaching opportunities, they typically mean ‘delivering lectures’.  This is understandable, given that the conventional definition of ‘lecturing’ is deeply embedded into our academic hierarchy and culture.  The death of the traditional ‘stand and deliver’ lecture heralds a new era of dynamic, interactive, and reflective teaching, and necessitates new metrics for the evaluation of academic teaching loads.

10.  On-line Teaching Proffers a Team Experience

Traditional lecturing is a solitary endeavour.  Many lecturers find it uncomfortable to be observed by colleagues practicing their art.  Assisting colleagues in the delivery of traditional, F2F flipped lectures is certainly effective at breaking down these barriers, but on-line delivery enhances the collaborative and dynamic aspects of group teaching.  For example, colleagues can seamlessly inject their insights.  They can answer, moderate and triage questions.  They can help administer multiple breakout rooms quickly and proactively.  This environment, with its tailorable and versatile avenues for learning and feedback, becomes a cohesive undertaking in which each teaching staff can be invested.

Conclusion

Enforced on-line delivery was the disruption required to finally the change way lecturing happens for good.  How the change in behaviour impacts learning and student engagement is perhaps easier to predict than how it will affect the culture of being an academic, and how it will affect measures of our workloads, funding for departments, and mix of staff roles required to deliver a course. 

References

(1) Why do Students still Bother Coming to Lectures, When Everything is Available Online? Vanessa Gysbers, Jill Johnston, Dale Hancock, Gareth Denyer   International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, 19(2), 20-36, 2011. 

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