Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dogfooding the Interactive Lecture at ANU

Greetings from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where I have been taking part in an interactive lecture on "Deep Learning and Interactive Lectures" by Glen O'Grady, Director of the ANU Centre for Higher Education, Learning & Teaching. This used the Echo 360 Active Learning Platform (ALP) and is an example of dogfooding: leading by example, using the tools you are advocating others use.

Echo's ALP seems to have moved some way towards the combining of lecture recording and webinar software which I outlined in a paper (Worthington, 2013) and discussed later that year with staff at Echo360's Perth office. This would allow students to interact live in the classroom, remotely in real time, or later with a recording. One feature still missing is for the student to be able to pause the live event and time shift. Students would then be able to interact as if the lecture was in real time, answering quiz questions, entering and reading text chat, but minutes or days, later.

However, the focus of Glen's talk was the pedagogy of increasing interaction in "lectures", rather than the gadgets. This seems to be a development of "Lecture 2.0" from a decade ago, to make the classroom experience more engaging. The problem with this was, and still is, the constraints of the room layouts available, the curriculum, and perhaps most of all, the lecturer's limited course design and teaching skills.

Conventional lecture theaters are designed for the student to be able to see and hear the lecturer, not for group interaction. Even where interaction is physically possible, lecturers have difficulty using a format other then them talking and students listening, as this is the only teaching technique they know.

The focus needs to be, I suggest, on students and their learning needs, not lecturer's dreams of full lecture theaters. Rather than try to modify lectures to make them more interactive, I suggest replacing them with better teaching techniques. This requires the teaching staff to be trained in how to teach (not lecture) and to use different forms of assessment. Lectures can then be a very minor supplement to more effective teaching techniques.

The ANU is building a new flexible learning centre with rooms for "flipped" classes (as discussed in "Brave New World in Future Teaching Spaces" by Bella Dimattina, Woroni, ANU, 3 October 2017). What is needed to use the new building effectively is to also flip the thinking of the teaching staff. Rather than worry about how to get students to come to "lectures", the priority should be first the learning outcomes, then the assessment for those outcomes and lastly what form of scaffolded learning activities are needed.

An example of this approach is the ANU Techlauncher program, where students undertake a project on a real-world problem in teams, or as individual interns, working for a real organization. The student's work is project based, with them attending weekly tutorials for mutual support and advice from a tutor. There are also workshops and conventional lectures. However, the lectures are the least important part of the course.


Worthington, T. (2013). Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Techniques. In Proceedings of 2013 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 26 Apr - 28 Apr 2013 , Sri Lanka. URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2013.6553983
Preprint available at: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/9556

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