Lectures – meatspace or online?

I’ve been following the simmering debate about the relative merits of face-to-face vs VLE-mediated/recorded lectures.  The thing I don’t get is why these arguments about educational modalities become so polarised.  Proponents of both sides (as if there should be ‘sides’, right?) seem to happily adopt an ‘either-or’ mentality when in fact the variety of teaching approaches should at least be equal in number to the variety of learning styles.

I don’t believe it’s a case of choosing either face-to-face lectures, or choosing a VLE to wrap up goodies such as recorded lectures for delivery to students. Learning doesn’t take place because we provide a particular type of information stream; it occurs because the student interacts with all available material and a desirable change of state occurs. 

So what do students prefer? Swee Kit Alan Soong et al [http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/sydney06/proceeding/pdf_papers/p179.pdf]
surveyed 1165 students with interesting results.

Single modality preferences
7.93% of students preferred lectures in lecture theatre (LT) only
3.21% of students preferred video recorded lectures only
2.19% of students preferred uploaded course documents in Blackboard only

Dual modality preferences
10.30% of students preferred lectures in LT, with uploaded course documents on Blackboard
4.56% of students preferred lectures in LT, with video recorded lectures
4.98% of students preferred video recorded lectures, with uploaded course documents on Blackboard

Multiple modality preferences
 And a whopping 66.84% of students preferred lectures in LT, with video recorded lectures, plus uploaded course documents on Blackboard. 

It’s clear that students like lectures, but only in conjunction with other enabling technologies. As the authors say, students “prefer ‘whole package’ … of instructional modes.” They like the online accessibility of Blackboard materials, and 48.3% (N=1134) of them like video recordings of LT lectures so they can repeatedly watch selected parts until they understand them.

So if students like – and presumably benefit from – a smorgasboard of educational activities, surely our challenge is to manage their educational landscape instead of merely providing it on an ad hoc basis. Perhaps we need a new institutional role – the Learning Manager – to take responsibility for facilitating the whole spectrum of learning strategies used to engage students? With the increasing complexity of the learning landscape, perhaps the course coordinator or lecturer is no longer the person to fill this role.  So who is?

Early work, such as that by McPherson and Nunes (2004)[http://www.eurodl.org/materials/contrib/2004/Maggie_MsP.html] recognises the critical role of tutors in online learning support, a view supported later by Sulčič and Sulčič (2007) [http://proceedings.informingscience.org/InSITE2007/IISITv4p201-210Sulc388.pdf] and many others.

Could it be then that our humble tutors are destined to sit at the centre of the web – with a pivotal learning management role – in our emerging eLearning 2.0 world? Wouldn’t that shake up the establishment!

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