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The 'Sage on the Stage' and the End of the Classroom Lecture

I remain a traditionalist, a traditionalist in the sense that I believe the most important relationship on any college campus – the one with greatest potential to impact students in a positive way – is the relationship between students and faculty. I also believe that, at its core, this relationship has to be about the processes of discovery and innovation. There is nothing more impactful on students than faculty who conduct research in the lab, in the field, or in the library, and who then bring their innovations into the classroom each day. That is what makes a higher education a higher education.
 
A few weeks ago, in “Why MOOCs are like Farmville,” I opined that once the hype surrounding MOOCs died down, and they progressed from the peak of inflated expectations down through the trough of disillusionment to finally reach a plateau of productivity, their lasting impact likely will be dramatically different from what many today now expect. One of the most lasting effects will be on the ‘sage on the stage’ and the end of the classroom lecture.
 
Many proponents of MOOCs fall short when they advocate using technology to replicate the classroom lecture by beaming out lectures from star faculty members to students who access these courses over the Internet. Such a model replaces the physical with the digital, but this represents the use of technology to drive efficiency and scalability – it does not pose a significant shift in the nature of the learning processes. This is because, like the classroom lecture, the use of online technologies in this manner presupposes the role of the faculty to be one of content creator, while the role of the student is to be one of content subscriber. In such a model, the nature of collaboration itself does not change. This shortchanges the true impacts of the Internet regarding teaching and learning, even if the lectures come from faculty judged to be the best in the world.
 
A more lasting and impactful form of change results when we understand that the Internet has disrupted the traditional relationships between content creators and content subscribers, so that all individuals in a relationship can now play both roles, acting simultaneously as content creators and subscribers. In these types of relationships, learning becomes more about the processes of learning – the processes of creating knowledge – and less about the processes of consuming or retaining knowledge itself. In the world of Google, facts can be accessed quickly and efficiently at any time, from any place, and with any device – so rote mastery of facts is no longer the core of learning. Instead, knowing what to do with those facts – or, more importantly, imparting the processes by which those facts are created – rightfully becomes the center of the learning processes itself. That does not mean that faculty should not stand before students and speak, but that speech should be to evangelize, to inspire, and to demonstrate and not simply as a mechanism to impart knowledge.
 
Technology remains an important tool. Social networking tools provide the opportunity to engage others broadly and to provide instant feedback, while advanced analytical software provides capabilities to identify previously invisible patterns in “big data.” Our future economic success will be heavily dependent upon our ability to develop these capacities in our students. However, this success no longer depends upon using outmoded approaches to instruction, like the classroom lecture, as a singular mechanism for imparting knowledge to others.
 
The most lasting impact of the Internet is this – everyone is a sage now.
 

Comments

Tim,

Did you read the related NTY blog entry from Thomas Friedman?

www.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/opinion/friedman-the-professors-big-stage.html

Although he points to the potential value of MOOCs for online learnign, he came down in favor of blended learning (with a flipped classrom, really) and the iimportance of personal contact between instructor and student, especially interactive learning even during lectures.

--Nancy

He and I pretty much see eye to eye on this, though I am more worried I think about our ending up in a two tiered system where those with means benefit from a traditional experience and those without get something more commodity like.

Tim,

What role if any does the lecture-format play in the higher education classroom any more? Do you think a time will come when this method of delivery is completely abolished?

-Chris

I totally agree with your article. Digital technology great and works well with students, they even hunger for it sometimes when an instructor refuses to incorporate it. I use technology in my classroom every day but it cannot totally take the place of traditional lecture. The interaction with the student on a face to face basis is invaluable. I think the best route is to use both and at the same time.

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