Learning – Do students want face time or screen time?

Over the weekend I read a piece about a report on the future of learning according to millennials published by Millennial Branding and Internships.  This study surveyed 1,345 US College students about the future of education and reports that today’s students are more willing to learn online and that they see the future of learning as being virtual and social media driven.  I’ve not read the full report, but was struck by the fact that this study specifically asked “about students’ perceptions of and thoughts about online colleges and classes”, so it doesn’t perhaps provide an accurate picture of what students really think about the future of learning.  Despite this one of the findings is that

50 percent of students said they don’t need a traditional classroom to learn, but 78 percent do think that it’s easier to learn in a traditional classroom than online.
So in other words 50% do want a traditional classroom and 3 out of 4 students think it’s easier to learn in a traditional setting, which essentially highlights they want face to face contact.  Another report I came across this evening has looked at US teens aged 13-17 and how they view their digital lives and social networking.  This study highlights that the teens surveyed prefer to communicate face to face.
These findings are similar to those in a study undertaken by one of our former students, Robert McMillan.  This study was done three years ago and looked at whether students preferred using an elearning approach to a more traditional poster board resourced teaching session.  Robert found that whilst students liked the online resource, and would refer to it again to support revision etc they didn’t want online learning at the expense of small group teaching and 68% of students favoured elearning as part of a blended learning approach. Three years on I don’t think our students’ views have changed, they like and want more online learning that simulates clinical situations and scenarios and is rich in formative assessment and feedback which lets them see how well they are performing. They find these particularly useful for revision, but again they don’t want to lose face to face teaching contact.
With all of this in mind it was interesting to read another piece this evening in the Guardian titled, It’s too early to write off the lecture. Here Jonathan Wolf, Professor of philosophy at UCL writes,
For as long as the lecture is regarded as better than internet-based learning, it will survive on a substantial scale. And wherein lies its superiority? An interesting question. It is live. It is real. It is put on with you in mind, even if you are one of a large crowd. You experience it with other people. And, perhaps the clincher: it takes place in a university, bursting with life and interesting people who will inspire you in unexpected ways. Somehow live learning can be open and transformative in a way that transcends its educational function. Maybe one day we’ll work out how to do this better some other way. For the moment, while internet technology, if used well, can certainly enhance university teaching, and provide smooth access to excellent education for those unable to attend university, it is too early to write the lecture’s obituary.
Having just celebrated graduation it’s clear from chatting with our new graduates that they’ve been inspired by local ‘legends’ in the Medical School in lectures and clinical teaching. They’ve also received support and encouragement from teachers, doors have been open to discuss ideas, there have been research project opportunities and lots other activities to engage with.
Given all this there’s maybe life still in the old dog of traditional face-to-face teaching in higher education and we shouldn’t just assume that our students want to do all their learning online.

Should Powerpoint handouts be uploaded to the VLE before or after lectures?

lecture handouts

Photo credit - libraryman

My PG Cert in Teaching in Higher Education kicked off last week with a workshop and one of the group activities involved us all delivering a short 5 minute micro teaching slot.  We had been forewarned about this so most of us had prepared a few Powerpoint slides to support our slots.  After we’d done our stint we had to evaluate our own efforts and then we got feedback from the other members of our small group and a course tutor.  This exercise stimulated some interesting discussion around student engagement and whether students today expected to be spoon-fed, in contrast to when we were all students when you had to take your own notes during lectures as there wasn’t the luxury of being able to download from the VLE what was written on the OHP or blackboard.  This discussion continued in the plenary session.  Some lecturers highlighted that they tended to use keywords on Powerpoint slides rather than have lots of text, which all seems to make good sense, but students weren’t happy because there wasn’t enough information for them on the slides.  Were they unhappy because they would actually have to listen and make notes …  I don’t know.

The debate about lecture Powerpoint handouts continued with some colleagues at the end of last week.  We currently make our lecture Powerpoint handouts available after the lecture has been given.  In a poll (run with Turning Point) in the last lecture of a 4 week teaching block one of the questions we asked was, ‘When did students want the Powerpoint handouts for lectures uploaded to Blackboard’. The options we gave them were before the lecture, after the lecture, at the end of a teaching block or not at all.  95% of them said they wanted them uploaded before the lecture.  Discussing this with a couple of lecturers there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for doing this.  The reasons for this are that, one they think that students won’t bother coming to their lectures if the handouts are available beforehand, and secondly as many of our lecturers are also busy NHS doctors they often don’t have their Powerpoint slides completed until just before the lecture.

I’ve had a very, very quick squint to see if I can find any literature that provides any evidence that releasing the lecture notes before the lecture affects learning outcomes for students and their performance in assessment etc or their attendance.   I haven’t really found much on this yet that I can get access to, but intend to do a bit more serious searching.

I’m interested in whether other institutions have protocols or guidelines on whether lecture slides should be made available prior to lectures, what are you encouraged to do?  What’s the rationale for making them available before hand rather than afterwards?  Does this approach affect attendance at lectures or learning outcomes.   Does giving out the handouts before the lecture encourage the students to come to the lecture more prepared and stimulate more interaction in the lecture or do you think it’s just spoon-feeding them?

I’d be interested to hear what others think!

Photo credit libraryman