Wrong on so many levels


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I read an article in The Age on Tuesday titled ‘Politics wanes on the digital campus’. It was essentially about the changes in university campus life over the last forty years and it was quite an interesting read. What struck me though was the following couple of sentences:

“Online lectures make an easy symbol for the death of the traditional university experience. But they are a symptom of a changed era, not its cause. Not all staff put lectures online, and some have ways of saving the lecture theatre from redundancy, reportedly announcing that they are about to give an important exam hint — then covering the mic recording for online.”

I had to smile. This is so typical of the muddled and inconsistent thinking of many academics.

So what we have here is a lecturer who is recording a lecture but who wants the students who actually come to class to have some advantage over those that don’t. Let’s analyse this:

1. Why is the academic giving a lecture?

Is this the best way to disseminate knowledge and understanding to their students? Is the academic one of the very small number of lecturers that can deliver an interactive and engaging lecture that allows their students to actively learn during the lecture? Or are they one of the majority of academics that will deliver some content over an hour two, to a passive audience many of whom will be barely listening.

Maybe they are the former and, if so, then that’s great, well done, keep up the good work. But we know that the majority don’t  fall into that category.

2. Why is the academic recording the lecture?

If they are great at giving lectures then, great record your lecture and make it available to students to watch later. Even better, record the lecture then make it open for the world to share under a Creative Commons license.

If they’re not a good lecturer then why not deliver the material differently? Why not break your hour long ‘lecture’ into short, coherent recordings covering specific learning objectives and associate each one with some active learning activities either online or offline? Or use a multitude of other techniques?

3. Why is the academic distinguishing between students that come to class and those that don’t?

The academic clearly thinks that the students should come to the lecture. But why? And why give one passive set of listeners an advantage over another set of passive listeners? There is no logic to this.

4. Why is the academic giving an exam ‘hint’?

What does this say about ‘academic standards’ at universities? We all know that it is common practice to give hints but that doesn’t make it good practice. In fact it’s clearly bad practice. why don’t many academics understand this?

5. Why does the academic happily admit to this practice to the article author?

And here we have the muddled thinking of many frontline academic staff. I suspect that this largely stems from a lack of strong leadership, direction and commitment to quality at all levels within universities. This lack of strong direction seems to be masqueraded under the guise of ‘academic freedom’. I’m sure it’s been common for a long time but it’s probably just more apparent now than previously as attitudes to learning in higher education are changing more than ever.

I do find it more than ironic that as divisions between TAFE (vocational education) and Higher Education in Australia are being challenged, many of the objections to TAFEs offering degrees are based on the notion of a perceived lack of quality standards. I’ll make the observation that, having spent over 20 years in Higher Education in the UK and Australia at many institutions, the institution that, in my experience, had the highest level of quality assurance in teaching and learning was the Polytechnic of Wales/University of Glamorgan twenty years ago. This was an institution whose quality standards were monitored by the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) and the rigour with which quality standards were applied would make academics at self monitoring universities blanche.

Maybe universities need to put their own houses in order before criticising others. I won’t hold my breath.

4 Comments On “Wrong on so many levels”

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  2. I think your points are great and I’m extremely supportive of the move to record lecture material. I do however worry about the situation where students stop coming to lectures altogether. This semester, some of my colleagues are delivering their lecture material to a completely empty theatre because, for whatever reason, the 35+ enrolled master’s-level students are not attending their lectures. It makes it very hard for the lecturer and guest lectures to engage their audience if… there is no audience. But I also worry that students are missing out on a big opportunity to socialise and network with their peers. Online forums are excellent at connecting students but they’re not (as honest?) the same as face-to-face peer exchanges which occur before and after lectures (complaining about a mediocre lecturer can do wonders for strengthening the bonds of students who might otherwise feel isolated and confused if they never have an opportunity to meet their peers).

    I don’t know what the solution is because, like I said, I support the move to record lecture material. I just also identify a growing problem of poor attendance, lecturer ambivalence and increased isolation of students if no one is taking up the opportunity to study on campus.


    • Hi Leanne,

      Thank you for comment. Sorry for the delay in replying.

      I think that in the example you mention where the masters students are not attending their lectures the students are clearly voting with their feet and staying away. They feel that they are not getting sufficient value from the lecture to make it worth attending. But is this important? Maybe they are learning what they need elsewhere. Maybe they are reading books or finding information online or from each other. Does it matter?

      I agree with your point with socialising and networking with peers but I’m not sure that having a whinge about lecturers face to face is necessarily the best way of doing this. In some situations a face to face opportunity for networking (maybe with the lecturer as well) will be the best way of doing this? For example, with the masters students would it be better replacing some of the unattended lectures with opportunities for students to work socially in groups on case based learning and to actively learn from each other (who knows, this maybe even fun for the student). This could be online or offline, whatever.

      For what it’s worth I disagree with you about recording complete lectures. I think this just uses technology to replace one passive learning style with another one. At previous institution I persuaded academic staff to record logically consistent parts of a lecture (10 – 15 mins long) and to separate these with either online or offline learning activities. This bite sized lectures allow academics to deliver items of learning which the student then has an opportunity to actively engage with immediately. The academics are freed from the constraints of a one hour lecture timetable period and can delivery the material in a way that is best suited to the content.

      Best wishes and thanks again for commenting,



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