Should the Class Lecture Be Saved?

lecture hall
Photo: PxHere

Last semester in the Chronicle of Higher Education there was an article that asked, "Can The Lecture Be Saved?" This semester in the midst of shuttered campuses there has been far fewer traditional lectures. By "traditional" I mean the long ones you might have sat through in a 90-minute class or the dreaded 3-hour graduate class.

In general, I think lecture times have decreased in the past 20 years. Building online courses during those years, I have always strongly encouraged faculty to chunk their traditional lectures into shorter mini-lectures. Student attention spans have decreased, perhaps partially because they are used to videos online from YouTube stars to Khan Academy being 20 minutes or less.

Faculty have also been told that lecturing is bad. Educators have gone through "flipping the classroom" and “active learning” and have been told that they should not be the "sage on the stage" but rather the "guide on the side." Still, a lecture can transmit the knowledge level that even Bloom knew was necessary for learning. He believed that knowledge “involves the recall of specifics and universals, the recall of methods and processes, or the recall of a pattern, structure, or setting.” A lecture is one way to deliver that.

That Chronicle article says that faculty should not feel guilty about doing some lecturing., but the secret is to make it interactive. Part of that means that instructors break up their lectures with other activities that reinforce what students learn through the lecture, and also encourage them to apply it. A term used is "interactive lecturing."

In my discussions the past two months with teachers in high schools and colleges, the sense I get is that their online classes are very much not lecture-based. When they do present content via video (and for some just audio) it is shorter than a "lecture" and less formal. 

The article focuses on how Claire Major, a professor of higher education administration at the University of Alabama, arrived at her own teaching style. Some of what she recommends is on this interactive lecturing quick reference chart (pdf).

The structure she tries to use for each class is a good, simple instructional design to consider online or in a physical classroom.

She includes "bookends" to begin and end class. I liked using a 5-minute writing task at the very start of class (sometimes as students entered the room). I learned this many years ago as the "anticipatory set" of the lesson. It might be a question to gauge their knowledge of one of the session's topics or it could be to be at Bloom's comprehension level by asking them to explain, summarize, paraphrase, illustrate to any other action to show that they can comprehend or interpret information based on prior learning.

Major's "overlays" are used to encourage students to pay attention during the lecture portion of the class. Like her, I sometimes used cloze activities (AKA guided notes) that could be completed by listening to the lecture. I knew them from my K12 teaching and brought them to a number of college teachers as a way to check comprehension as a self-check for students or for me to check their comprehension.

Similarly, her "interleaves" are activities during class to help students apply what they just learned. The "think-pair-share" exercise is hardly new to most teachers. Hands-on activities and group work easier in a physical classroom than online. But online you need to structure activities to be completed by students before allowing them to continue with a lesson. Most learning management systems and some screen capture and video programs have tools to include checks for comprehension points in a lesson.

Should the lecture be saved? Yes, saved for when necessary, and redefined.  

 

The Post-Pandemic Campus

empty classroomAn article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (unfortunately, "premium" for subscribers even in these pandemic days) is called "How Should Colleges Prepare for a Post-Pandemic World?" by Brian Rosenberg. His general advice is to "anticipate and plan for change rather than merely hope that it will not arrive." Change has arrived.

This article may be for higher education but almost all of these thoughts apply to K12 schools too.

Here are my highlighted excerpts with some commentary:

  • College is staggeringly expensive. Students and their families are going to be hard hit. Plus, colleges that have lost enormous sums of money will be attempting to recap but from families that have lost income and savings: Most colleges will need to provide more financial aid and possibly fewer services with fewer people.
  • When the lockdown is over there will still be a period of voluntary separation. With no vaccine, many people are still going to be hesitant to travel, return to campus, interact in groups in classrooms and labs. I suspect there will be more gap years than in the past.
  • Distance learning was forced upon us. Some of it was fine. It had been fine in many courses before all this. Some of it was lacking. It was done in a panic without much time to prepare and with faculty and students were not ready for it and never wanted to be online before. Schools need to really evaluate what worked, what didn't work and what they will change next time this kind of longterm disruption occurs. And it will.
    What courses and subjects can use the online model to be less expensive but still highly effective? Of course, most schools still charge the same for an online course as a face-to-face one, so there is no savings for students.  way to teach. Can a hybrid model of in-person+online lower cost? These are not new questions to ask, but too many schools have still never addressed them - and the answers may be different in 20121 than they were in 2019. 
  • Is distance learning "good enough" in a world of sharply diminished resources? The author suspects that for many students and families the answer will be yes. I agree.
  • So, how should schools prepare for the post-pandemic world? It is better to anticipate and plan for change than merely to hope that it will not arrive. One change might be rethinking the traditional academic calendar - "which is almost unique in its inefficiency."  The author suggests the "simplest way to lower the cost of college" but it is not the easiest way - eliminate the long breaks and make it easier for students to graduate in three years.

Wikis in a Pandemic

wiki code

The code behind the Wikipedia article on the history of wikis

The first wiki was created in 1995 by Oregon programmer Ward Cunningham who named it after the "Wiki-Wiki" (meaning "quick") shuttle buses at the Honolulu Airport. They were meant to be web sites on which anyone could post material without knowing programming languages or HTML.

The most famous wiki is still Wikipedia which officially began with its first edit in January 2001, two days after the domain was registered by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. This fact comes from, of course, an article on Wikipedia about the history of Wikipedia

Wikipedia didn't get huge numbers of visitors immediately and it certainly didn't gain acceptance in academia for at least a decade. (Some might argue that it still isn't accepted by faculty for student use, especially when it is used in a copy/paste manner - but that's a different topic.)

I've been writing about wikis on and off since this blog started and a search on here shows 100+ mentions of "wiki" with about a third of those being actual posts about wikis. Most of that writing was in the first 15 years of this century, but I have seen some reemergence in wiki use among educators lately.

Back in 2005, I started getting into using wikis. Tim Kellers and I made one in order to teach about the use of wikis - particularly the use of open-source wiki software. It was what some would call a metawiki - a wiki about wikis.

Wikis were part of the Web 2.0 movement. when we started to think about the Internet as a place where we could build and contribute our own content rather than just read and consume.

In 2005, we were mixing wikis in with the somewhat sexier 2.0 tools like podcasting, blogging, and the photo and video sharing sites that were popping up. Then came social media and everything changed again.

That metawiki that Tim and I made 15 years ago no longer exists since neither of us is still at NJIT where it was hosted. It served its purpose which was to demonstrate to others how wikis are built, grow, get damaged and heal. It looked a lot like Wikipedia because we used the same software - Mediawiki - that was used to build Wikipedia. [Note: The wonderful archive.org did crawl our pages and you can see an archived version of our Wiki35 there.]

Brother Tim and I were doing workshops on blogs, podcasts and wikis which were three things we were sure were going to change corporations and education. Blogs and podcasts are still powerful and still growing. Wikis? Not so much.  

People often described wikis as "collaborative web sites" and they were being used for things like project management, knowledge sharing and proposal writing. The benefits of this collaborative approach include reducing daily phone calls, e-mails and meeting time as well as encouraging collaboration. The Internet research firm, the Gartner Group, predicted in 2006 that Wikis would become mainstream collaboration tools in at least 50% of companies by 2009.

Midway between that prediction, I wrote in 2007 that by my calculation technology generally moves into the world of education in dog years because it seems to take about 7 years for widespread acceptance and usage. This is in comparison to the world outside education, especially if the business world.

It's not that you can (or should) use the application of new technologies in the commercial world as a gauge for what we should be doing in education, but schools certainly lag behind industry and home users in adopting and adapting technology.  

By 2015, I was writing more about the disappearance of wikis and the devolution of Web 2.0.  My own use of wikis as tools in my teaching was also winding down.

I had been using Wikispaces with students as a collaborative tool. I assigned students to work in a class wiki and also had students create their own wikis using that software. But Wikispaces started to shut down and was gone by 2018. Now you can only read about it on Wikipedia.

It has been five years since that post and I don't think I have written anything significant in the interim about wikis. Some people are still using wikis and Wikipedia is in the top ten most visited websites on the Web, but I don't see people building wikis for education (and perhaps not in corporations either).

Blogs like WordPress and DIY website services overtook wikis as free or low-cost ways to put content online in pretty packages, though few of those are collaborative in the sense of wiki collaboration.

I no longer work on any wikis other than editing Wikipedia and I don't think Tim does either. But just recently, amidst all the scrambling to get courses online due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, I saw a few examples of wikis in education that make me think that we haven't completely hit the DELETE key on wikis.

One example is at coursehero.com with a Comparative Anatomy and Physiology course in which Dr. Glené Mynhardt has students create a wiki page on one specific animal phylum. In an article about the course, Explore More in a Survey Course with a Build-a-Wiki Project, Mynhardt explains how she uses Moodle which allows for page creation using easy cut-and-paste and drag-and-drop commands.

One missing wiki element in Moodle is that it does not allow public access which is key to the original intent of wikis. Mynhardt says “Students can view each other’s wikis, but I can’t share them with colleagues or [the public], and the students can’t share them outside the course,” so educators who want to make the work public may want to use other web page–building options. It's not Mediawiki but using these wiki tools that are in a learning management system like Blackboard or that tool in Moodle or in collaborative software such as Sharepoint or simply creating a content page in Canvas and allowing students to edit the page is a way to bring the collaborative wiki experience to students. And in this time of students sheltering at home and working online more than ever, collaboration is an important element of learning.