Need-to-Know News: Are Lectures Really Dead?, edX CEO on Perils of Unchanging Education, & Will MOOCs Replace College?

Student bored
Are Lectures Dead?

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

1) Are Lectures Really Dead?
Tony Bates posted an excellent piece this week on his blog  “Why lectures are dead (or soon will be)”, yet contrary to the title, Bates does describe a context for when and how lectures are valuable. Though Bates gives lectures another ten years before they become obsolete, he outlines the circumstances and provides an example where lectures are effective:

  • Example: A public lecture delivered at a higher ed institution by a newly appointed research professor where he delivered an inaugural lecture summarizing his research customized to the diverse audience of lay people and subject matter experts—used excellent visuals and analogies 
  • Other contexts: Lectures delivered as supplemental events,  e.g. as a course introduction where the instructor connects with students by sharing his or her interests and enthusiasm for the course topic, interest in getting to know students and supporting their learning, thus motivating students, or midway through the course to address difficult concepts, or to summarize at course end

Bates also refers to two textbooks geared to educators that convey skills and suggestions for effective teaching methods, lectures in particular. From the text “McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers”:

McKeachie and Svinicki (2006, p. 58) believe that lecturing is best for:

  • providing up-to-date material that can’t be found in one source
  • summarizing material found in a variety of sources.
  • adapting material to the interests of a particular group.
  • initially helping students discover key concepts, principles or ideas
  • modelling expert thinking.

Bates also covers the history of the lecture, and the research that supports why traditional lectures are ineffective. Nothing educators haven’t heard before, yet it’s an excellent summary piece. Below are links to the texts Bates mentions. I’ve also included an article “The Twilight of the Lecture” featured in Harvard Magazine of a similar vein about lectures. It’s about Eric Mazur’s (professor at Harvard University) journey to transforming his classroom instruction; he is now an advocate for active learning and a reformed lecture.

2) edX CEO Gives Keynote at Campus Technology Conference, 2014

“Everything around us has changed. Communication has changed, healthcare has changed, but education hasn’t,” Agarwal said. “It is actually pretty shocking and pathetic that the way we educate learners hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.”  Anant Agarwal, CEO, edX in Keynote address at Campus Technology Conference

Anant Agarwal delivered the keynote, “Reinventing Education” at Campus Technology’s conference this week where he described how MOOCs, (edX particularly) can transform higher education. Though Agarwal acknowledged that the concepts of active learning, peer learning and instant feedback, those used in edX’s platform are not new, yet he stated that  “what is new is applying the technology and making these ideas more scalable and available.”

Not sure if I buy this. Though he’s right about how new technology scales some aspects of education, e.g. providing (short) recorded lectures and instant feedback in the form of multiple choice tests, the real issue is how do these methods transform higher ed? How does the MOOC platform address quality and access?

3) Will MOOCS Replace a Traditional College Education?
The Atlantic published an article this week “Will Free Online Courses Ever Replace a College Education?”. The answer the author (an attorney) implies is no— MOOCs he surmises are like films, almost a form of enlightening entertainment. Though I see more value to MOOCs than the author, the piece is worth a read given the insights into edX provided by two individuals interviewed, edX’s Chief Scientist Piotr Mitros and Richard Lue, edX’s faculty director. Mitros discusses automated grading with edX’s Open Response Assessment (ORA), though “carefully points out that no one—least of all edX—seriously believes that automated grading can fully replace a live instructor“.  That is some good news.

Though what I found more enlightening is what Lue shared with Wintehalter about the value of MOOCs, which appears to be how it benefits the MOOC instructors—by improving their teaching skills back in the classroom.

“The MOOC,” Lue told me, “has been a catalyst that helped us realize just how different things are. I have tried some blended-learning techniques in my own classroom and been startled by the results. The level of performance was remarkable.”

This is a common theme I’ve read about and heardinstructors find great value in MOOCs for the different perspective it provides back in the traditional classroom. They are able to adapt and view classroom teaching differently, are more ready to try new techniques and incorporate methods that leverage digital resources, including those used in the MOOC format.  Perhaps this is how MOOCs will revolutionize higher education—not for bringing access and lowering costs for students, but for supporting faculty in professional development. This is great news, albeit a very costly method of professional development.

You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI