A future for lectures?

Two articles caught my attention this week. Firstly a defence of the traditional lecture by Jonathan Wolff  of University College London and secondly an interview with Anant Agarwal of edX.

In the Guardian, Prof Wolff looks at a history of technical innovations that could have killed off the traditional lecture: the arrival of the printing press; audio recording and easily accessible video recording. In the model of disruptive technologies, then a successful new entrant to a market will offer a cheaper more accessible product, which may not have the features of that which is replacing initially, but which will still dislodge the incumbent market players.  Prof Wolff identifies nylon shirts and wine boxes as innovations that didn’t disrupt established products or services. I’m with him of this – my wine comes in bottles, and my shirts are always pure cotton.

He states:

For as long as the lecture is regarded as better than internet-based learning, it will survive on a substantial scale. And wherein lies its superiority? An interesting question. It is live. It is real. It is put on with you in mind, even if you are one of a large crowd. You experience it with other people. And, perhaps the clincher: it takes place in a university, bursting with life and interesting people who will inspire you in unexpected ways.

I believe that the sense of place is important as a part of the generation of a learning community, however, Prof Wolff does indicate that internet based teaching can offer many benefits. The clever approach surely will be to identify where each of the various technologies or methodologies can be used in an integrated or blended way to maximise student attainment and success.

All of which brings us neatly to the interview in the Times Higher with Anant Agarwal, one of the founders of edX. We’ve noted previously in this blog that the MOOC companies are now looking to blended learning approaches as a way of monetisng their courses and generating revenue to satisfy their investors. edX is a not-for-profit enterprise, but is also now talking about how its MOOCs could link to blended learning programmes:

One route being pursued by edX, which is now partnered with 27 universities across the world, is the licensing of its online courses to other higher education institutions. The idea is that students can view video lectures at home, or on campus in their own time, before receiving face-to-face instruction and guidance from their institution’s academics.

Inevitably there has been concern that if the delivery is being done via the internet, then the role of the lecturer is devalued or even removed.

Agarwal, who earlier this month spoke at the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh in defence of Moocs, denies that taking the teaching out of the lecture hall will jeopardise jobs. He insists instead that although lecturers’ roles may change slightly, students using Mooc resources will still benefit from contact time with professors.

“When textbooks came out we could have said the same thing – what’s going to happen to all the professors who had to remember and talk about the content? What it did was to transform professors’ jobs into ones where, rather than imparting content, they worked with students to impart knowledge and learning.”

As a university which has student learning at the centre of its plans, then the way in which we look to use resources such as MOOCs, open educational resources, the technologies used in existing online courses can provide us with new ways of delivering content, and improving the actual teaching that students get.

After all – when did you last see or hear a group of students rushing in excitement to a lecture ?