16. Transmissive Lectures: Learning by Listening

16.4. Does New Technology Make Lectures More Relevant?

Over the years, institutions have made massive investments in adding technologies to support lecturing. Powerpoint presentations, multiple projectors and screens, clickers for recording student responses, even ‘back-chat’ channels on Twitter, enabling students to comment on a lecture – or more often, the lecturer – in real-time (surely the worst form of torture for a speaker), have all been tried. Students have been asked to bring tablets or laptops to class, and universities, in particular, have invested millions of dollars in the state of the art lecture theatres. Nevertheless, all this is just lipstick on a pig. The essence of a lecture remains the transmission of information, all of which is now ready and, in most cases, freely available in other media and in more learner-friendly formats.

I worked in a college wherein one program all students had to bring laptops to class. At least in these classes, there were some activities to do related to the lecture that required the students to use the laptops during class time. However, in most classes, this took less than 25 percentage of the lesson time. Most of the other time, students were talked at, and as a result used their laptops for other, mainly non-academic activities, especially playing online poker.

Faculty often complain about students use of technology such as mobile phones or tablets, for ‘non-relevant’ multitasking in class, but this misses the point. If most students have mobile phones or laptops, why are they still having to come to a lecture hall in person? Why can’t they get a podcast or a video of the lecture? Second, if they are coming, why are the lecturers not requiring them to use their mobile phones, tablets, or laptops for study purposes, such as finding sources? Why not break the students into small groups and get them to do some online research then come back with group answers to share with the rest of the class? If lectures are to be offered, the aim should be to make the lecture engaging in its own right, so the students are not distracted by their non-academic online activity.