The beginning of the end of the lecture hall?
The conference in Orlando
University Business is a magazine that focuses on equipment and facilities, including IT and AV systems. UB thus has its pulse on key technology trends and developments in universities, many of which have important implications also for teaching and learning. Every year it runs an annual national conference and I attended this year’s conference in Orlando, Florida.
Redesigning classrooms for 21st century learning
It was an interesting conference, with several excellent speakers. One message became clear. In the words of Mark Valenti of the Sextant Group in UB’s June edition of its magazine:
“we’re basically seeing the beginning of the end of the lecture hall.’
In essence, new technology, hybrid learning and the need to engage students and develop core ’21st century skills’ are leading some institutional leaders to rethink the classroom and the way it’s used – and about time.
One of the best presentations I have seen for some time at a large conference was given by Tawnya Means and Jason Meneely of the University of Florida, where several departments have redesigned their class space to enable both formal and informal active group learning. Small, mobile tables with ports for a range of mobile devices, and software that enables both instructor and student control over screen sharing and projection are used to support case-based, problem-based, project-based and collaborative learning.
Meneely quoted Winston Churchill who said: ‘We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.’ Meneeely claims that when faculty are presented with such use of space, they naturally adopt these more active learning approaches.
You can find details of one of their new classroom designs, the Innovation coLab, by clicking the link. Another redesign was to convert an old kitchen and classroom into an open cafeteria-based group learning area, with a breakout area for individual study, thus allowing students to seemlessly combine socializing, group study and independent study within the same overall space.
One thing that strikes me is how similar is the pedagogy for these more interactive classrooms to the constructivist small, group-based learning I was using as an elementary school teacher in Britain in the 1960s – plus ça change….
It is significant that both Means and Meneely come from design backgrounds, with Tawnya as the Director for the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, and Jason as an instructor of interior design. There were presentations at the conference and articles in the June magazine edition that indicate that other institutions, including the University of Kentucky and Queensland University of Technology are rethinking the structure and layout of the classroom. In addition some other institutions, such as the University of Central Florida, have been doing this for years.
Roles for lectures in a hybrid world
I think it is premature to write off the lecture hall or even lectures. They have their value, but as with many technology developments, they will not disappear but find their niche within a richer pedagogical context. Some of the roles I see for lectures in a technologically-rich teaching environment are:
- a lecture at the beginning of a course to set the tone and build a sense of community,
- a lecture at the end of a course to pull things together, to provide a synthesis, or a sense of completion or to ask: where now?
- a lecture in the middle as a check on where students are, what are the ‘sticking points’, and a realignment of expectations or resetting of students’ focus
- a lecture for a research professor to synthesize/summarize his/her findings or the field in which they are researching
- special occasions, such as analyzing a dramatic current event in terms of theories or principles studied in a course: why, how, what next, etc.
- distinguished visitors who have something extra to add to a course or program.
I am sure that you can think of many others. (If so please hare them).
However, I think the ‘default’ mode of the lecture in terms of delivering the main course content as being the standard form of teaching will slowly disappear, as we apply more active learning principles and the power of technology to our classroom teaching.
One also has to ask for how long MOOCs can rely on the standard video-taped lecture as the core of their teaching, once more active learning penetrates the ivy covered walls.
For new, more interactive classroom designs to become more widespread though, we need to start building some good design models for hybrid learning, and especially for what we do in class when students can also study online. At least two universities in Florida, the University of Florida at Gainsville and UCF in Orlando, are showing the way.
Do you have other examples of new classroom designs for hybrid learning that go beyond the flipped classroom, based on new hardware and software in the classroom? If so, please share.
Williams, L. (2013) AV Trends: Hrdware and Sofware for Sharing Screens University Business, June