Replacing the Classroom Lecture

Replacing the Classroom Lecture

It seems that the classroom lecture has gotten a bad reputation. When students hear the word lecture they often think of an instructor standing in front of a class, talking for hours about a subject – and they hope the instructor will have something interesting to say. Even though a lecture has the potential to be dry because of the nature of the subject matter or the skills of the presenter – there are instructors who make it interactive and know how to engage students in a meaningful way.

With the online classroom format, teachers have had to adapt their instructional methods and the question becomes – can (and should) the traditional class lecture be replaced? For some students the answer is no, they need that element of a traditional class because they learn more effectively through listening instead of only reading. Online schools and more importantly, online instructors both understand the potential a lecture has to enhance learning and are working to help it evolve, just as adult learning has evolved through the use of a technology-enabled classroom.

Elements of a Traditional Lecture
 
The class lecture is often considered a required component of teaching in a traditional classroom environment. It can take the format of a stand-and-deliver style of presentation where the instructor dispenses knowledge that students need. It is a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching because every student, regardless of their individual learning style or preference, must participate in the class in this manner. Students are expected to attend and be ready to learn. This is a similar approach as primary school teaching, where students are viewed as blank slates and they must be given the needed information.

From the students’ perspective, the class lecture may be perceived as nothing more than a series of endless information sessions that they may or may not process. More importantly, they may or may not remember what was presented once they leave the classroom, depending upon how effectively they took notes or how interactive the presentation was. Some instructors will connect with students in a meaningful way by finding methods of generating interest in the subject addressed in a lecture and building from that initial interest in an interactive manner. Instructors may add in-class activities, demonstrations, or other techniques to stimulate students’ attention.

The purpose of a lecture is to provide students with information, help them process it, and explain its meaning. The instructor is supposed to be the subject matter expert, with the knowledge and experience necessary to know what information is relevant to students’ learning needs. This approach to teaching assumes that students have minimal experience or knowledge to contribute – and they are in the class to learn and be recipients during the process. This is not always true, which is one of the reasons why online learning has been successful in leading the way for transforming the field of adult education. The adult student often has prior experience and knowledge – and learning can be even more effective when they become an interactive participant in the process.  

Lectures and the Online Classroom

The online classroom was developed from a student-centered perspective, with a focus on interactions. The primary method of engagement between students and instructors occurs during the asynchronous discussions – in which all students are expected to participate. What I enjoy most about this kind of interaction is that I can follow development of the students’ thought processes as they work with the topics and create their analyses. I’m able to add my expertise when I respond to their posts and build upon what they have written. This is different from the traditional classroom – in which students typically respond when they are certain of an answer or they have a question to ask. They expect me to present the information and only participate when asked a direct question.

The most important change that the online classroom has made for teaching and learning is the emphasis on instructors guiding the process of learning rather than dictating it. Students are expected to take responsibility for reading the course materials and comprehending the information presented. They are also encouraged to share their knowledge and experiences with the class during the discussions, which allows them to be active participants in the class. As part of this classroom environment my lectures take the form of informational messages, weekly summaries, and announcements.

Here are some of the messages that I’ll post each week, which includes information similar to what I would provide in a lecture:
•    Wrap-up announcement that summarizes the key points and highlights from the assigned readings and class discussions.
•    Preview announcement that presents an overview of the new learning objectives and provides a checklist of the learning activities.
•    Guidance message that expands upon the assigned reading, offers insight into the topics, and provides supplemental resources.

The nature of instructional messages and postings is also evolving. When I began teaching online several years ago, many schools recommended that instructors provide these messages; however, there was little emphasis on the amount of substance or format of each message. Because of the growth of interactive technology tools this approach is changing. The following list includes some of the enhancements I’ve utilized and you are likely to find these tools are also used within your instructors’ posts.

1. Videos. One of the most common enhancements provided are videos, especially videos on YouTube (and more specifically YouTube EDU, which is an education channel). The addition of videos that address course-specific topics helps add a multi-media element to the class.

2. Interactive tools for presentations. There are free software programs that many instructors are beginning to utilize. The first is Zentation and it allows an instructor to synchronize videos with PowerPoint presentations. The second is Prezi and this software allows instructors to create interactive whiteboards and slides. The purpose of this software is to create messages that are interesting and engaging for students.

3. Podcasts. These are media files that can be downloaded and played on MP3 players and iPod devices. The most popular podcast application is iTunes University. Many schools have created and uploaded lectures in the form of podcasts for students to use. For example, if you visit the iTunes University page, look for iTunes U Quick Links. From there you will find general categories such as business – and the good news for students (especially online students) is that there many podcasts you can listen to at no cost and you do not have to be a student of that school to access it.

Podcasts have been studied for effectiveness and The Journal for the Research Center for Educational Technology published a study about podcasts (see the discussion section on page 49) that found this supplemental form of instruction to be widely accepted by faculty and students as an effective method of learning. The study also found that easy access and frequent usage of the podcasts by students may attribute to students’ higher test scores.

The classroom lecture has not disappeared with the online learning environment. It has evolved, just as other methods of teaching students have changed because of the use of a technology-enabled classroom. The good news for students is that the traditional lecture format has changed and now instructors have to find new ways to present information and share their expertise. The result is a learning environment designed to stimulate interest and meet the needs of a diverse group of students and learning styles.

As an online student, do you find that your instructors have effectively replaced the traditional classroom lecture with other interactive instructional techniques? Share your thoughts via Twitter @DrBruceJ.

By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo © Image Source/Corbis

 

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