There’s a flurry of debate happening in the media, questioning whether large face-to-face lectures have had their day – and whether remote learning will dominate higher education even once it is safe to return to large lectures.
In my view, reports of the death of the face-to-face lecture have been greatly exaggerated.
However, the move to greater online and blended learning as a result of Covid gives the sector a new context and a wealth of experience to think more broadly about lectures. In particular, how technology might be used to retain the benefits of live group teaching, while continuing to deliver learning that better meets the needs of a broader range of students.
Below are some of the ways we support this in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at University of Glasgow.
Students seem less self-conscious about sharing their opinions and experiences of what we’re discussing, for example being neurodiverse or LGBTQ
Structure, routine, and interaction
New students often struggle with the amount of self-directed learning expected in university, and the time management required to do it effectively. It’s not because they are less passionate about their subject than more experienced students, or that they’re not doing enough work. They simply haven’t yet had a chance to develop their independent learning skills to the required level.
With this in mind, we introduced the Watch Party to help first year students better engage with online lectures.
Students attend a timetabled lecture as usual but rather than it being a live session, we stream pre-recorded videos using our video learning platform, Echo360, and the lecturer communicates with students in real time via a digital chat channel, as well as incorporating quizzes and Q&A to maintain participation.
Having a set time for the lectures helps students keep on top of their work but we record the watch party sessions too, which are available for students after class if they can’t make the lecture.
This approach means students get the flexibility of fully asynchronous learning, with the structure, routine, and interaction of live classes. Watch parties highlight the importance of recording live lectures even once students return to the lecture hall. A recording provides flexibility to those who need it most, but there’s still power and purpose in attending the live session, particularly in the formative stages of study skill development.
Digital chat channels can be an extremely positive tool for delivering lectures online. As a lecturer, the chat function gives me an insight into how students are finding a class – something that I wouldn’t normally get. Students seem less self-conscious about sharing their opinions and experiences of what we’re discussing, for example being neurodiverse or LGBTQ, and are more willing to ask and answer questions when it’s done via a chat box.
This adds value that we couldn’t replicate as effectively in any other way. It’s just like a large face-to-face lecture, but in a format where a much greater proportion of the class is participating.
We’re extremely keen to retain the use of an accompanying online chat when we return to the lecture hall because it reinforces the idea that live sessions – even ones that are didactic in nature – are about coming together as a learning community and connecting with both staff and students.
Put simply, recordings provide flexibility for when life gets in the way
Before Covid hit, a lot of my work focused on supporting and encouraging academics to record their lectures. I hope that one lasting change from the pivot to online will be a greater willingness to provide recordings of teaching (where appropriate) but also a greater recognition of what recordings are and are not for.
Put simply, recordings provide flexibility for when life gets in the way. They are a second chance for students with mental and physical health conditions, for carers, for those who have to work to financially support themselves, and yes, even for the 18-year-olds who haven’t quite cracked getting up in the morning. But they don’t, can’t, and will never replace interaction, community, and meaningful contact with staff and peers.
The face-to-face lecture is not dead. But rethinking it, and making better use of technology, will help the higher education sector to shape teaching and learning in a way that matches what is being taught, where and to whom.
Dr Emily Nordmann is a senior lecturer of psychology at the University of Glasgow, and recently contributed to Lecture rapture: the place and case for lectures in the new normal, a preprint paper currently under revision following review.
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