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The Evolution of the Lecture

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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The lecture thus evolves from a single event to a mediated, "chunked" learning object to a dynamic set of resources. It evolves from a performance to an annotated recording of the performance to a new type of dynamic text.


Welcome back to all 15,000 plus of you in over 100 countries around the world! Our Northern Hemisphere summer break allowed us to set in motion some important changes in the Tomorrow's Professor listserv that will make it more useful to you while at the same time aligning it more closely with the appropriate Stanford University support organizations. The last two months have also given us a chance to build up the data base of future postings and this will result in a better balance among the five standard posting categories. Most of the changes will be rolled out over the next few weeks.

We have a new sponsor, the Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) ( Our affiliation with CTL, under the leadership of Dr. Michele Marincovich, will result in better overlap in terms of missions and goals. Making the listserv website a part of CTL, (in about two weeks) will enable you to more easily access supplementary resource material on teaching, learning, and higher education in general.

Feedback from many of you indicates that past postings (over 425 to date) are a good source of ideas for class discussion, outside readings, and even dissertation topics. Another website change that will be on-line shortly will give you the ability to locate any of the past postings through a keyword search, first by posting title, and later by even more sophisticated strategies.

We are also planning to initiate a volunteer subscriber registration system - via our website - that will enable us to occasionally send you targeted supplementary postings based on your unique interests.

Be assured, however, that the most desired features of the Mailing List will remain unchanged. We know from subscriber surveys and unsolicited feedback that what you value most are brief, biweekly, substantive articles on topics of interest to present and future academics.

So let's get started. The posting below looks at the recent and rapid evolution of the lecture format and what it means for faculty and students. It is an excerpt from the article, Constellations for Learning, by Charles Kerns published in Educause Review, May-June, 2002. The full article can be found at: Copyright ?2002 Charles Kerns. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis UP NEXT: Assessing Student Development: 1930s to the Present

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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By Charles Kerns


As a learning activity designer, I explore how new technologies are likely to change specific teaching and learning problems and practices. For this article, I shall examine, in detail, one instructional practice: the lecture. It is important to look at the possibilities for change in the lecture because this mode of teaching is still the dominant practice in higher education. I do not mean to suggest that the traditional lecture will disappear, but that new models for oral presentations by instructors are appearing and are following normal innovation-adoption patterns.

The lecture has already been affected by technology, of course. During the past twenty-five years, the lecture was extended into distributed learning through analog video recordings. Given the opportunity, many students choose to view videos rather than attend lectures, even when doing so involves inconvenient visits to an audio-video center. Once recorded lectures are made available, it is difficult to constrain use only to certain students. Some students register for online courses while living on campus, simply to gain access to the recordings. In addition, faculty want to make lecture recordings available to all students, local or distant, for makeup and review.

Many technologies including streaming video, widespread high-bandwidth networks, recording whiteboards and rooms, automated indexing of audio and video, IP-based videoconferencing, and new types of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) tools can affect how lectures will be given. With tools to digitize, index, summarize, link, and annotate video, we can create and distribute streaming-video recordings of lectures, including the slides and whiteboards that were presented. Handouts, alternative illustrations, animations, references, problem sets, and assessments can be indexed and tied to points in the audio-video recording. These clusters of resources and activities can be used as independent modules or learning objects, in some cases replacing the event of the lecture. Indexed recordings allow students to access specific moments in the lecture. Once the lecture recording has nonlinear access, students will move from sequential viewing (as must be done in the face-to-face lecture) to a combination of sequential (with and without pausing) and search-and-review viewings.

Another change is that online, lecture-based learning objects will be used with communication tools for discussion and annotation. New systems allow moments in the video to be annotated with students' questions, novice and expert explanations, drawings, and other representations of the content. Excerpts from lectures can be pasted into students' Web page projects and papers to elaborate on the original content. The students' works can then be linked back to the original learning object. Eventually, the recorded lecture can lose its centrality in the learning object. The lecture thus evolves from a single event to a mediated,,"chunked" learning object to a dynamic set of resources. It evolves from a performance to an annotated recording of the performance to a new type of dynamic text.

Because of these possibilities, it is difficult to predict exactly how learning objects that contain lectures will be used by students. We do know that students do not like most lectures. Students often feel isolated, distant, and passive in the large lecture halls. They have trouble dealing with the continuous flow of information. With online lecture modules, students are able to decide when to"go" to a lecture, with whom to go, where to see it, and what to do while viewing it. With shared, network access, lectures can become distributed, informal group events (as homework has become for high school students with telephones and chat rooms). In both local and distributed informal study groups, students will dissect, review, and question the information in the lecture. Research has shown that for learning, facilitated group viewings of recorded lectures, both co-located and distributed, have been as effective as or more effective than simply attending lectures.1

Faculty, administrators, and academic technologists should support collaborative viewing. Planners and designers should be aware that students' study of lecture learning objects will lead to new types of behaviors determined by temporal constraints, learning styles, social supports, and other variables. Faculty need to monitor these new practices to identify those that are effective in helping students gain deep understanding. Academic computing groups should provide logistical and technical support for interaction, not simply distribute digital video recordings, in order to encourage the evolving collaborative learning practices.

The face-to-face lecture event, in which people physically meet, is an impetus to informal interactions: asking questions of instructors and friends in the hallway before class, carrying out discussions with other students, and developing trust and supportive friendships that start with the camaraderie resulting from facing common challenges. If students study from lecture-based learning objects, they will still need these informal interactions. CSCL tools that support casual discussion, trust building, and awareness are currently being researched. Collaborative activities will likely become part of the lecture-viewing practice. Buddy lists and other methods of maintaining awareness in informal groups have already become popular on some campuses and in some distributed learning environments.

As in most mediated learning interactions, the instructor will lose some level of control over students' behavior when lecture-based learning objects are used. Attending face-to-face lectures several times weekly provides external discipline for the student. When students can schedule their viewing and discussions of an online lecture, they will need more support in planning their time and in developing meta-learning skills.

Finally, what happens to faculty as the lecture changes from being an event to being part of a learning object? Many faculty like to give lectures. Others are driven by the economic necessities of large classes. Many feel that the presentation of a long, sustained, oral argument is an important form of academic discourse. Lectures often form the skeletons of future books. In any case, faculty have become experts in organizing and preparing the content of lectures. They have gone through an apprenticeship in lecturing. They create lectures with little outside assistance. They consider the lecture their own independent activity. When lectures are part of a complex, online learning object, instructors must rely on technicians, producers, and, often, instructional designers, programmers, and other support staff. Learning objects that include lectures can force the faculty into new relationships. Some faculty may create lectures as they always did and leave the production to others; some may become producers; some may act only as content consultants in production groups.

How will faculty integrate learning objects into their teaching? Rather than providing basic coverage of facts (which learning objects can provide), will lecture periods consist of more complex discussions and arguments? Will they be periods of remediation based on monitoring student interactions with learning objects? Will more guest lectures delivered over IP-based videoconferencing offer different viewpoints? Will there be fewer, but intellectually more stimulating, lectures? Or will faculty simply be assigned more students per course?

Other instructional practices: seminars, laboratories, tutorials, problem-based instruction, peer tutoring, can be analyzed similarly to the lecture. These analyses need to look for constellations of interlocking, mutually supportive technologies that affect practice by providing rich interactions, access, effective learning, and efficiency.