Slimming down the lecture

One of the regular debates in contemporary higher education concerns the utility of the traditional university lecture: the one-hour-or-so presentation of a topic or related topics by a lecturer to a largely passive audience of students. Given changes in pedagogy and demographics, not to mention new technology, it has been argued that this traditional vehicle for teaching is or should now be largely redundant.

But while it is regularly argued that the traditional lecture has little to offer technology-enhanced or distance learning, there is one adapted form that does seem to be popular: the micro-lecture. Here is how it has been described:

‘Microlectures (snippets) are simple multimedia presentations that are 90 seconds to five minutes long. They focus on a specific concept or skill associated with the course’s learning objectives. Microlectures allow students to access instruction on a specific concept or skill they need to practice.’

The question of course will be whether we are reducing knowledge to bite-size chunks that today’s easily distracted population can manage but which convey little of analytical value, or whether we are using key issues to stimulate learning and intellectual exploration. It is all a part of the continuing need to apply genuine pedagogical insights to new forms of education.

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5 Comments on “Slimming down the lecture”

  1. Greg Foley Says:

    I think there’s merit in this idea – at least in the STEM disciplines. I use Camstasia a lot to make short screencasts demonstrating how to do certain types of calculation.

    But it’s hard to see how microlectures would contribute a whole lot to teaching in the humanities. And that’s the point; the efficacy of many new pedagogical approaches tends to be discipline-specific and, crucially, highly influenced by basic logistical things like class size.

  2. Ernie Ball Says:

    I love hearing about how lectures have been “made redundant” by technology when virtually every MOOC or other technological swizz involves little more than recording lectures and putting them on the equivalent of YouTube.

  3. cormac Says:

    Re ” it has been argued that this traditional vehicle for teaching is or should now be largely redundant”
    But is it, and should it? The feedback I get from students is that , by and large, they enjoy the traditional lecture (which by the way, are 45 minutes, including questions and discussion) as long as the lectures are accompanied by smaller tutorials in the IT labs. Indeed, our lot quite like the combination of old-fashioned lectures and online tutorials..

  4. James Fryar Says:

    There are, in my opinion, basically four elements involved in educating students. The first is providing them with information. The second is guiding the students on how to process that information. The third is to let students process the information for themselves. And the fourth is a feedback loop between the second and third steps.

    The lecture is really the point in the process at which the second, third and feedback converge at a single moment in time. You can split that up into micro-lectures and tutorials and lab sessions, or however you want.

    I’ve always found information technology is good at the first bit. It’s not really all that efficient when it comes to helping a lecturer guide students through information, allowing students to process that information, or allowing the interactional feedback. It just becomes a messy, long, drawn out process of information flowing back and forth multiple times when it could be shortened into a single face-to-face meeting of academic and student for 45 minutes.

  5. Jane Kidd Says:

    Once in a while a student will hear a really inspirational lecture. What a great privilege that is, for both sides of the lectern, I assume, and will lead to great things.


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