There are two conflicting themes floating around the wider worlds of technology-enhanced learning at the moment – the notion that the lecture is dead, and at odds with this, an increasingly loud voice from researchers and students who believe that all lectures should be filmed and made available to students for later viewing.
Let’s take each of these separately. Item 1: the lecture, apparently, is an outmoded form of teaching and learning that may once have been a useful way of conveying knowledge to an illiterate populace, but has long since had its day. This is by no means a modern notion. Indeed, the lecture format has been questioned for many years. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) long ago produced his own straightforward critique of lectures:
‘People have nowadays…got a strange opinion that everything should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do as much good as reading the books from which the lectures are taken…Lectures were once useful, but now, when all can read, and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary.’
A quick search of the Internet suggests the term ‘the lecture is dead’ before I have even finished typing my search query. A quick scan through the first half a dozen blog posts, online articles and journals repeat the same message: ‘nobody learns if you talk at them for 3 hours.’ This is doubly true for the guys who fall asleep during such passive experiences I guess.
Ok. So let’s agree then, that the traditional lecture is no longer required as we can find what we need to know ourselves, and sitting passively in a lecture theatre for long periods of time does not teach us anything anyway.
On to item 2: lectures should be filmed so that students can watch them online in their own time. Lecture capture is certainly front and centre at my institution, with four big-name providers showcasing their brands in the next few weeks. It’ll be like Dragons’ Den, with all four companies being scrutinized for the chance to provide the entire university with a solution only their company can deliver. I have already written about my experiences with lecture capture elsewhere in this blog, so won’t cloud the issue by repeating them here.
Now, if I were a student who didn’t need to attend a live lecture because I could watch it whenever I wanted – with the added benefit of being able to pause, rewind and re-watch, or even spread the whole thing over a few evenings to make it more manageable- then that’s exactly what I would do. And this brings up a new issue: if nobody goes to a live lecture because they know it’s being recorded, then what happens? Does the lecturer ‘perform’ to an empty auditorium? And hang on a minute – isn’t the lecture supposed to be dead anyway?
Should we be spending vast sums of money kitting out lecture theatres with HD cameras and sophisticated microphones if the same spaces are empty and the concept of the lecture obsolete? Should we, perhaps, be making better use of our resources?
One solution would be to support academic staff to sit in front of their computer with a web cam and a microphone, and to show them how to use screen-casting software. They could go on to record their lectures at a time and in a location that suits them, and upload the results at the fraction of the cost of lecture capture hardware and software. In the future, disused lecture theatres could then be repurposed and turned into cinemas. Or fast food outlets.