Lectures must add value if campus-based higher education is to continue

  • Date: 27-01-2014

A new report published today by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) has found that a blended approach to learning and teaching, where technology-enhanced learning takes place alongside more traditional approaches, should help students benefit from the value that lectures and seminars add to a higher education experience.

However, the report, Flexible Pedagogies: technology-enhance learning, goes on to emphasise that if students do not perceive traditional lectures and seminars to be valuable from a learning perspective then the age of campus-based education could be ending. It concludes that the best approach to higher education teaching is therefore to use technology to enhance the student learning experience by enabling greater flexibility.

Written by Neil Gordon, University of Hull, the report considers how technology-enhanced learning may support flexible approaches to learning and teaching, addresses how e-learning and flexibility can be used to enhance existing provision and also considers the impact on students as well as on and of institutional systems.

A significant opportunity addressed in the report is how technology can be used to personalise students’ learning. One example is the use of adaptive tests in certain disciplines such as Mathematics, which offer harder or easier questions based on previous responses. Technology could also enable students to choose how they are assessed in other disciplines, such as creating short films or presenting to peers. The report found that increasing flexibility in this way reduced the likelihood of plagiarism, as test material is bespoke to individual students, but also raised new challenges in linking test results to learning outcomes.

It is clear that it is not HE teachers alone who face challenges when using technology-enhanced learning. For example, the report also found that:

• while technology can provide many ways for students to access resources and information, and to interact with staff, this can create potential confusion and information overload;

• HE providers need to develop quality processes and support systems to plan for the resulting flexibility;

• teachers may need to develop their own skills to best utilise available technology.

Professor Stephanie Marshall, Chief Executive of the HEA, said: “We are at a very exciting time for technology-enhanced learning, with massive open online courses, for example, gaining a particularly high profile over the past 12 months. Those of us who teach within the HE community have a responsibility to ensure our students have access to the best possible learning experience and I’m sure the examples given in this report will provide guidance and advice to those using technology to increase flexible approaches to learning and teaching.”

The report highlights a number of developments which could, in the future, aid flexibility beyond the typical features of current technology-enhanced learning or virtual learning environments including:

• support for personalised learning pathways;

• development of learning analytics, such as engagement data to replace attendance data;

• further research into the effectiveness of online, distance and flexible approaches compared to more traditional ones, with a focus on retention and success data;

• policy development work on the recognition of credits from online courses;

• research into whether online courses could really replace or just complement in-class interaction.

The report launched today is part of the HEA’s ‘Flexible Pedagogies: preparing for the future’ series which focuses on key flexible learning themes. The overarching final series report will be published in Summer 2014.

The report can be downloaded here.