University of Adelaide is phasing out lectures

From Financial Review by Tim Dodd

University of Adelaide vice chancellor Warren Bebbington says lectures are not a good way to teach.
University of Adelaide vice chancellor Warren Bebbington says lectures are not a good way to teach.

Lectures are obsolete, says University of Adelaide vice-chancellor Warren Bebbington.

“My view is they’re gone; they’re never coming back,” he said as he described his university’s experience in replacing lectures with online learning.

If students can get the material online, they are not going to come to lectures, he said.

Last year Adelaide began a major shift in its teaching program, beginning to phase out traditional lectures and replacing them with online learning integrated with small-group work.

The aim in the initial year was for every first-year student to have at least one small-group discovery experience, Professor Bebbington said. In the event they reached 82 per cent of first-year students last year.

He considers it a success. “The retention rate went up and the overall satisfaction rate went up,” he said.

The small-group experiences are what it known as “blended learning” or “flip the classroom” – a new style of teaching that many universities worldwide are experimenting with.

Instead of sitting in lecture theatres to learn the basic material, students learn it in online courses. They then bring that knowledge into the classroom where, in small groups guided by an instructor, they discuss what they have learnt and use the knowledge to solve problems.

The University of Adelaide calls it a “small-group discovery experience”. This year it’s been introduced for second-year students and next year it will go to third-year. After that it will be available to honours and masters students.

Professor Bebbington said it does cost money to set up. Lecturers have to create online courses, which means adopting online pedagogy methods and working with the university’s new learning innovation centre to shoot videos.

“I think it is superior,” he said.

“In the old days of lectures you’re sitting in the lecture room and if you didn’t understand something it’s in one ear and then it’s gone.

“Now there’s capacity to replay things when the student sits at home, plus, of course, there’s capacity to go at your own speed.”

The university is further developing its online learning expertise as a member of edX, a non-profit massive open online course provider founded by Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The University of Adelaide’s free courses on edX are also used within the university as part of its small-group discovery initiative.

MIT is also on the small-group discovery path and Adelaide has had a visit from then chancellor Eric Grimson (one of MIT’s senior academic officers) to discuss this learning revolution.

Professor Bebbington said MIT had gone even further than Adelaide and abolished academic office hours, where students are able to see their lecturers.

Instead, lecturers are rostered on to be available in the student hub.

“You walk into their hub at MIT and all around the room you’ll see professors and lecturers doing things on computers, consulting, answering questions. They do this informal interaction in the student recreation area,” he said.

Will he do this in Adelaide? “That will be the next step, I guess,” he replied.

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