Long Live the Lecture (at least for international post-graduate taught cohorts) !

Flipped Classroom There has been much talk recently of the flipped classroom, sometimes referred to as the flipped lecture or the inverted classroom. Flipped classrooms are about replacing the traditional lecture, where students listen attentively (or not) to a lecturer imparting knowledge, to a more interactive, discussion based session at which the teacher is available to help students understand the concepts that the students have been asked to study prior to the lecture. The blogger knewton describes the flipped classroom as a move from the teacher as “Sage on the Stage” to “Guide on the Side.”

In the model of the flipped classroom students cover the lecture material, which may be available in the form of written notes, podcasts or full-lecture video content at their own pace and at a time convenient to them, arriving at the scheduled lecture ready to answer questions on material, engage in class discussions and check understanding with the lecturer. The underpinning pedagogy of the lecture thus becomes one of participative rather than transmissive learning.

The advantages of the flipped classroom are that lecturers can devote more time to re-explaining concepts which the students found difficult to understand first time round, feedback on exercises is more immediate and students become less frustrated as they are completing exercises under the watchful and supportive eye of the lecturer rather than alone in their college room.

At a recent Higher Education Academy Event, “Lectures without Lecturing” educators from a number of UK Higher Education Institutions shared their experiences of the flipped classroom approach. Common findings were that students responded very favourably to a flipped classroom approach, student attainment increased, and lecturers whilst challenged by the experience, were also excited by its potential. It is important to acknowledge though that the flipped classroom is not for the fainthearted. Lecturers are relinquishing an element of control over the lecture, as student s influence both the format of the lecture and what material is covered. One speaker described the need to abandon any notion of covering specific material in the lecture and being prepared to deliver explanations, examples and evidence on the hoof, so to speak.

Discussion of the flipped classroom was also prominent at The University of Manchester’s Scholarship in Teaching and Learning Conference on March 20th, 2013, with participants sharing their views on both the efficacy of the traditional lecture and their fears of new modes of delivery (more work for staff, fear of losing control of the lecture, higher student expectation, students are too lazy to engage) to name just a few.

All this talk about flipped classrooms got me thinking. The majority of my teaching is to large classes (>200 students) of largely overseas students on postgraduate taught programmes. My students come from all corners of the globe, from many different education systems and the culture shock for them on arriving in Manchester is immense – both socially and educationally. Now I like to think that I am a progressive lecturer, an early adopter of e-learning and willing user of any tool or technique which helps my students learn better and enjoy my lectures more. I constantly strive to prepare engaging lectures; lectures rich with multi – media clips, practical examples and case study discussions. I never (at least I hope I never) drone on for more than 10 minutes without pausing to ask for questions, posing a question of my own or changing the mode of delivery.

Feedback from my students is consistently very good. Yet the foundation of my teaching remains a large traditional lecture, and the mode of delivery predominantly transmissive. I have experimented with delivering the core concepts in my subject (the management of projects) online via audio narrated PowerPoint slides, talking head video clips and video capture of my complete lectures and have found these to be effective tools which help my students grasp the fundamental concepts. This has definitely reduced the number of questions I have had to answer and repeated explanations that I have had to make, and the resources are much used by the students. However these are supplementary rather than replacements for a well –prepared, well-delivered face- to-face lecture.

The flipped classroom concept is certainty helpful in getting us educators to think about the effectiveness of our teaching and offers us a framework to be more interactive and discursive in our teaching. The risk with the flipped class room debate, as I see it however, is that we throw the baby out with the bath water, that we lose sight of what is good about the traditional lecture – it is efficient (very important in cash strapped UK Higher Education, where not everyone has access to armies of postgraduate demonstrators), it is familiar to our shell shocked overseas students (whose learning styles according to research in Manchester show a preference for learning visually and verbally rather than socially), it allows lecturers the freedom and flexibility to mix up the modes of delivery within the lecture, whilst at the same time ensuring that core material is covered. When supplemented with interactive elements such as case study discussions, use of electronic voting tools (for example clickers) and underpinned by teachers who are committed to teaching excellence THE TRADITIONAL LECTURE STILL WORKS WELL and I firmly believe reports of its demise are premature.

Over to you:

  • Do you agree that the traditional lecture has a future?
  • Is post-graduate overseas education a special case or are traditional lectures still
  • the bedrock of undergraduate education too?


2 thoughts on “Long Live the Lecture (at least for international post-graduate taught cohorts) !”

  1. Hi Fiona

    I’m a Careers Adviser with a background in teaching and Organizational Psychology. I was interested in your comment about the research produced by Manchester which suggests that international students have a preference for learning visually and verbally. My response is based upon experience rather than quantitative data. I know that in some countries the lecture is the primary means of learning and students are not expected or allowed to question what is said in a lecture. They may have been normalised into this way of learning and find it strange, and difficult, to take part in some of the tasks they may have been set because it will mean a behavioural change which can be quite frightening. Their response may be influenced by how open they are to change and new methods of learning. They may be afraid of making mistakes and the embarassment of being perceived as a poor student. (Do we encourage students to learn from their mistakes often enough?) It’s also useful to remember that students will be processing new information in lectures or classes: in addition international students may be processing the information in a different language and may not be able acquire all the information as quickly as students who have English as their first language that can be very tiring.

    I’d persevere with what you are doing and encourage them to take part if they seem reluctant. I suspect your students are extremely grateful for all the support materials in different media that you produce as they will be able to access them later. I recently attended a seminar which looked at the skills that Chinese graduates from U.K universities are perceived to have developed whilst studying in the U,K.: team work, creativity, independence, cross cultural awareness, and leadership skills were identified as positive skills developed on H.E. programmes taught in the U.K.

    1. Fiona
      Thanks for your helpful thoughts. They echo what our own language and educational experts are telling us here in Manchester and its good to hear that some of the “softer skills” that we are encouraging in our Chinese students are highly valued in their home country.

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