Australia: End of lectures era?

EducationWorld February 2021 | International News

Face-to-face lectures are unlikely to return to several Australian campuses once Covid-19 has been vanquished, raising questions about whether the pandemic will have a decisive impact globally on the long-running debate about the future of large-group teaching.

Perth’s Curtin University proposes to scrap all lectures by the end of this year, starting with those involving 100 people or more. They will be replaced by ‘CurtinTalks’ — short videos of 10-15 minutes, each based on a single topic or concept, with students expected to watch two or three a week for each subject.

Neighbouring Murdoch University has similar ideas, with Kylie Readman, the pro vice-chancellor (education), giving teaching staff 18 months to “transition away” from lectures. “We are not going to be having large-scale face-to-face lectures any more,” she told Times Higher Education (THE). Instead, information previously delivered through lectures will be curated, squeezed into “mini lectures” and integrated with online activities. Whatever online lectures remain will be timetabled, recorded and broadcast in a ‘synchronous’ mode that allows for interaction between students.

Universities elsewhere are thinking along similar lines, after being forced to switch to online learning under social distancing restrictions. Many have found that small-group seminars have translated better to this model than lectures.

Recently installed University of Leeds (UK) vice-chancel lor Simone Buitendijk plans to replace long-form lectures with “shorter chunks” that students can watch before class to pre-arm themselves with the knowledge they need to “become more creative and engaged with their teaching”. Prof. Buitendijk told THE previously that long-form lectures are “pedagogically not sound” and not evidence-based, and that the change would have happened regardless of Covid.

Melbourne-based Victoria University says there is no place for lectures in its ‘block teaching’ model, which is based around small class groups. Trish McCluskey, its associate provost of learning and teaching, says lectures are “an artefact of a bygone era,” when books and resources were scarce and the only way to learn was to sit at scholars’ feet.

“Lectures were the transmission of information from the lecturer’s head through the pen of the student and on to the exam paper. It never actually made it into the student’s head,” she says.

(Excerpted and adapted from Times Higher Education and The Economist)

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