Thursday, February 21, 2013

"The lesson sticks" - Lecture Theatres without Lectures

The New England Journal of Medicine in an article entitled Lecture Halls without Lectures - A Proposal for Medical Education (Prober & Heath, 2012) reports on an interesting study conducted in a Physics class. An undergraduate Physics course was divided into two: one part had traditional lectures from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, while the other part of the class used on-line material and classes were led by teaching assistants who got students to engage in real physics problems. This comparison in itself is not innovative, but the results were staggering. The first group had a test average of 41%, the second 74%. Here's a quote from the end of the article:

Imagine first-year medical students learning critical biochemical pathways by watching short videos as many times as necessary in the comfort of their personal learning space. Knowledge acquisition is verified by repeated low-stakes quizzes. Then, in class, the students participate in a discussion that includes a child with a metabolic disease, his or her parents, the treating clinician, and the biochemistry professor. The relevant biochemistry — so dry on the page of a textbook — comes to life. 

As the article states: "The lesson sticks".


The empty Nelson Mandela Lecture theatre.
Imnage source: Wikipedia.
Does this mean the end of lectures? Will all our lecture theatres be converted into ski slopes (or some other useful purpose)? Will on-line classes replace professors and lecturers? Will I be out of a job?

Despite being someone who has embraced technology for learning since 1989 when I started to work for the e-Learning company CBT Systems (which became SmartForce and is now SkillSoft), I am not sure that the answer to any of the above questions is "Yes". It is still the overwhelmingly dominant form of teaching in my own College - only labs and tutorials can break the monotony for our students. Man educators see value in "flipping classes" where lectures are recorded for viewing outside the classroom, while class time is used effectively for homework. This is a great idea, but needs new pedagogies and methodologies to make it work. Perhaps the next generation of digital natives can revolutionalize teaching with technology?

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