I'm coming back from what I believe was a successful lecture, when I run straight into one of my students whom I know was supposed to be in the class.
I ask the student: "Why were you not there in my riveting calculus class?" The response ... "I no longer bother to attend lectures; it is a better use of my time to watch the recorded lecture that is posted later online for free viewing ..."
Is this going to be the future of our University? Is the act of attending lectures now considered to be ‘old school' in our time-deficient lifestyles? Has technology created what is now being observed as a growing trend across the country of students choosing not to attend lectures and making use of the recorded versions?
UWA has been recently moved from the Lecture Capture System of Lectopia to the new ECHO system. What interests me is why the students are opting for this?
It is no secret that before the technology was available, lectures were not enjoying a 100 per cent attendance rate.
In fact lecture attendance for most courses tended to follow a standard curve: Close to100 per cent at the start of semester, dropping off over subsequent weeks, brief surges in attendance when assessment was due and then dropping off again until the final surge at the end of term.
Generally, there was strong correlation between attendance rates in lectures and results achieved, but one thing really concerns me. Systems like Lectopia and ECHO record the lecture only. Students aren't able to interact with the recording, and I cannot help wondering how many of the recorded lectures actually include activities that require interaction? Would a lecture that involves useful interaction, and other activities that help students to learn, suffer the same drop in attendance?
I shouldn't generalise: all lectures are not the same and I would like to make the point that recorded lectures are not necessarily passive and perhaps this technology has resulted in unit coordinators evaluating their current practices and discovering interesting and beneficial changes to the lecture approach that improve it greatly.
But it appears there is a lack of research evidence that the technology has led to an improvement in student performance. There seems to be only anecdotal evidence to suggest that the students who miss face-to-face lectures are actually missing out on something.
The Australian Learning and Teaching Council funded a project a year or so ago that looked at the impact of web-based lecture technologies on current and future practice in learning and teaching. This is the best source I know of with some reasonable research into this issue.
My observations are that students are quite strategic about the choices they make, basing decisions on lecture attendance around three factors: educational value; convenience and flexibility; and social opportunities to meet other students, exchange ideas and make new friends.
Students evaluate lectures and make pragmatic decisions about whether they'll attend. Let me put it to you in this way. What would happen if you were faced with the following? You find the lecturer boring, it's the only lecture scheduled for the day, it takes you an hour to get to campus, you have assignments due, and the lecture will be available electronically. Would you go to the lecture?
I use lectures to inspire and motivate students, establish connections with them and build conceptual frameworks. I use multimedia content, provide structured experiences for students, impart information and make announcements. I believe my lectures ‘value add'. However, the current situation raises the question of whether there are more effective ways of achieving these.
I think it is good to question the role of lectures. But I find it disappointing that institutions still seem not to question the role of lectures or their mythic attributes.
It strikes me that lecture recording sessions are horseless carriage versions of the lecture. Same idea, just slightly different technology. As the ALTC report says, there must be more effective ways of using technology to achieve the educational goals. Mustn't there?
Student Adviser, Science Student Office
and first year mathematics lecturer
Published in UWA News, 14 May 2012