Thursday, September 8, 2011

Students Prefer Old-Fashioned Lectures to Cutting-Edge Techno Wizzardry

The National Post has a report on a new study that shows that Canadian university students say that they learn more in traditional lecture courses than they do in courses with on-line components. (Thanks to Scott Masson for pointing out this article.)

They’re addicted to Facebook and slaves to their smartphones — “digital natives” trying to navigate the post-secondary world. But as universities spend millions on e-learning tools to help cater to this tech-savvy generation, current students say they’re learning more in classes that don’t have all the technological bells and whistles.

In fact, the first Canadian study of its kind has discovered that students prefer — and learn more — when a live lecturer stands at an unadorned podium. The finding surprised even the study’s authors.

“We were expecting to see evidence of what’s known as the ‘digital native’ era and we just didn’t see that,” said Joseph Berger, director of business development and communications at Higher Education Strategy Associates, the Canadian education consultancy that published the study Thursday.

“It’s not the portrait we expected whereby students would embrace anything that happens on a more highly technological level. It’s to the contrary — they really seem to like access to human interaction, a smart person at the front of the classroom.”

Well, of course. We professors already knew that and didn't need a "study" to tell us. But maybe the "study" will impress the administrators. Those of us who teach, especially in the humanities, know that reading, listening to lectures and face to face questions and answers are the essence of a liberal arts education. Students benefit from having a real, live professor who has studies the subject all his or her life right there in front of them so that actual, face-t0-face communication is possible.

This does not mean that there is no place for electronic learning resources any more than it means that if you have lectures you don't need books and libraries. Any student theoretically can get an education just by going to the library and reading long enough and diligently enough. But few will do so and it is an inefficient method even for those who do have the self-motivation to pursue it.

The essence of a university course is having a teacher who knows you, your background and who is going to respond to your questions and help you learn. Lectures, tutorials, seminars, question and answer sessions, review sessions, outlines, assigned readings and Socratic questioning are all part of a good university course. Learning is the point; conveying information (which is what the internet is good for) is just part of the process.

As universities become larger and classes become larger the illusion that technology can make up for a lack of a good student-professor ratio is a bureaucrat's dream and a student's nightmare.


MamaOat said...

It is even better if the prof. is passionate his/her topic and really wants to see you 'get it'

Craig Carter said...

You know, that is exactly the comment I get more than any other on my student evaluation (except for "too much reading"). Students who like me say they appreciate my passion for theology.