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Friday, September 08, 2017

The college lecture is dying. Good riddance | Quartz - Science of Learning

This is the first in The Vanishing University, a four-part series exploring the tech-driven future of higher education in America.


Can you hear me in the back of your room?
Photo:Harry Tennant for Quartz
"Right now, this very morning, thousands of young adults in the United States are scrambling through the same minor hell. They’ve woken up to the very last in a series of half-futile phone alarms. Made, and likely abandoned, an attempt to shower" notes Amy X. Wang, reporter at Quartz and Allison Schrager, economist, writer, and pension geek.

Skidded wet-haired and flustered into a cavernous lecture hall, flickering fluorescent, stuffed full with hundreds of teenagers yawning and jostling one another for space.

An inevitable five minutes late, they’re barely able to squeeze into seats amid a sea of elbows and protruding laptops. Then, a bespeckled professor strolls up to a podium, clears her throat, and begins droning away to a PowerPoint presentation that only a third of the kids will remember in a week’s time.

This is all going away.

Later this year, Jon Meer and Steve Wiggins, two economics professors at Texas A&M University, will begin their annual introductory microeconomics lecture to several thousand students—and this time around, they’ll teach it all without lifting a finger.

Students taking the Meer and Wiggins class, which is mandatory for the hundreds of business and economics majors at the school, will not physically attend a single session. Meer—an ardent lover of teaching, who started this project out of frustration about lecture courses’ sheer inefficiency—has already drawn up and pre-recorded all the lessons, engineered an interactive video platform, prepared all the homework and reading materials, and uploaded everything digitally, painstakingly mapping every last moment of the semester out before it actually starts. (The course was trialled last year at A&M on a smaller scale. Historically, it has been taught to about 300 students at a time physically present in a lecture hall.)

Meer writes equations and concepts onto a transparent whiteboard—which the camera later flips—a method that allows him to stay engaged and face-to-face with students.

Now that the prep is all out of the way, he can refocus on individual students who’re genuinely interested in a deeper pursuit of economics. Meet with them. Speak to them. Inspire them. As far as he is concerned, the traditional lecture setting in a massive hall is dead. “I missed talking to smart kids,” Meer explains. Now he has the time to do that.

“Principles of Microeconomics” marks one of the first times that a university is moving a key lecture online without offering another choice. And Texas A&M is a hell of a place to test this out—a juggernaut of a university, publicly funded to the tune of $1.5 billion annually and educating some 66,000 a year.

‘Diagnosis, not an autopsy’ 
A powerful lure exists to idea of the college lecture. For many parents and teachers, it’s a picture-perfect paragon of learning—energy buzzing, students congregating in the same room, bandying ideas about—and socialization is arguably one of the biggest benefits to a college education. If students don’t leave their dorm rooms to attend class, perhaps it could isolate a generation that some worry already live too much of their time online.

Another advantage of in-person lectures is that students are privy to other’s questions and viewpoints. Critics might argue that more online learning means they have fewer opportunities for exposure to different perspectives, for engrossing themselves in thoughtful debate.

“Do I think [this new course] is better than 30 students and the Socratic method, Dead Poets Society-style? Probably not,” Meer admits. But, he counters, given the fact that A&M has to educate 50,000 undergrads, 3,000 of which need to take the microeconomics class for their major, “it’s still vastly superior to delivering a lecture to 300 students at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning.”
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Source: Quartz


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