A while back, I asked this question on Twitter:
What is the most worthwhile use of an academic’s time, lecture or tutorial?
It was a simple question or so I thought but then I am working in this space although not as an academic, hence my views struggle to be impartial.
This little conversation, made me think deeper about the question I was asking:
Just to set the scene here: I see the lecture as still being touted as the mainstay of most of Higher Education. Yes, there are institutes out there who are moving away or already have moved away from this delivery method but I don’t think they are the majority. Ok, I don’t have facts and figures, empirical evidence here but through many conversations, observations and searching on university offerings online give me enough to go on. And, if most MOOCs are anything to go by, well…………..
But, is the lecture an effective use of an academic’s time?
Is that what a highly educated specialist should be devoting precious resources to in an increasingly time-pressurized environment?
Or is there a better use of that time?
I suppose it is best to clarify the meaning of ‘lecture’ first though. Lecture in this sense, is about somebody delivering content, an oral
presentation. For the spatial learners, this is a lecture theatre, typically tiered seating, with a person at the front talking and perhaps having supporting resources displayed. Yes, there might be some questions asked but this largely one-way delivery. In other words, lecturer talks, shows, explains…..students listen and try to understand (or more accurately try to stay awake!)
Now, this conjures up many different images depending on personal experiences, subject studied, university attended, etc but Wikipedia does a good job of explaining it for me:
A tutorial is a method of transferring knowledge and may be used as a part of a learning process. More interactive and specific than a book or a lecture; a tutorial seeks to teach by example and supply the information to complete a certain task. Depending on the context a tutorial can take one of many forms, ranging from a set of instructions to complete a task to an interactive problem solving session (usually in academia). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tutorial
What is the most worthwhile use of an academic’s time?
Well let’s summarise what seems to go on a lot in Higher Education:
Largely one way interaction
Very little opportunity for students to clarify misunderstandings or get explanations in areas where they need it
Often limited in learning styles
Same or similar content delivered in repeated sessions
Often very long (hours)
Very interactive if organised appropriately
Lots of opportunities for students to develop their understanding, learn from the academic and from their peers. Can involve problem solving, creative tasks, development exercises that have spin-offs in nurturing other skills in a student (eg communication, presentation skills)
Often based on applying knowledge, this allows students and the academic to see where understanding and indeed where misunderstandings are occurring.
Content will be different based on the needs of the students so repeated sessions are more dynamic.
Length of time usually hs more flexibility as the sessions are more flexible in what they are trying to achieve
Attendance issues can be addressed if students see the value in the sessions and get assistance in developing their knowledge on the course in question
The points made by Ian in the Twitter extract seem almost irrelevant when we look at the comparison above. Objectives, aims, size of cohort, etc. All of these don’t really make that much difference to how learning should be provided in this context, it seems to me.
If Blooms is considered to be the taxonomy we should be guided by when considering the essentials of learning, then the lecture, as described above, is getting nowhere near the higher levels yet tutorials are.
Of course, there is the argument that content needs to be delivered, facts, equations, principles, etc etc, need to be passed on to the learner. But, a highly paid specialist standing up and telling a group of students the same thing a few times a year.
Is that really a worthwhile use of an academic’s time?
How about this…
Every time I create a Jamie Oliver/Marco Pierre White/Rick Stein/<insert favourite chef> dish, do I need him/her there bouncing
around my kitchen telling me how to do it, as I sit impassively watching him? Or can I get the information, the techniques and the skills, the basic concepts of what I should be doing and how to do it, from some other medium rather than paying a fortune for him to come to my house?
Of course I would love the said chef to be there to guide me, show me where I am going wrong, point out better techniques, different approaches and ways of thinking about the dishes I am trying to master. And that to me, if I am to pay the fortune would where the money would be best invested.
If we apply this analogy to the issue of lectures and tutorials, to my mind, the question is a no-brainer. Surely, the specialist insight that an academic has in his/her field is best used not in a lecture but somewhere else.