Sunday, September 11, 2022

Most Students Are Not Coming Back to Class So Get Used to It

Returning to Uni (Video),
ABC TV, 6 September 2022
Victoria has made a pitch to absent international students to return. However, while acknowledging the efforts of the marketers of Australian education, I suggest this is domed to failure, and counterproductive. This signals to potential students that Australia's higher education system is inflexible, unwilling to cater to student's needs, and that our academics don't understand that things have changed, permanently. I suggest that the fantasy of a return to full classrooms needs to be challenged, before it does permanent damage to our education system, harming staff and students. This is not to say Australia can't have vibrant campuses, or students in class, but students have to be actively engaged when there, working to together, not passively listening to boring lectures.

It is confronting for a "lecturer" to admit that lectures are obsolete. I had this Epiphany in 2008, but it took years to retrain in more effective, online, blended, and hybrid teaching techniques. Australian universities need to make this change while they still can. Each day I see photographs taken by lecturers of empty lecture theaters, who are devastated by the fact that most of their students did not turn up. The lecturers contemplate drastic measures to force students back to class. I understand the anguish this situation causes for dedicated teachers, but the difficult solution is for them to learn to teach effectively.

Australian universities failed to prepare for a crisis which forced students off campus, despite being warned years in advance, and despite the example of universities in other countries which did. Despite that crisis occurring two years ago with COVID-19, and the shift to online learning as envisaged, most Australian universities, and academics, are unwilling to accept this is not temporary.

Most students never came to most classes, before COVID-19. About a quarter to a third of students turned up. Most students are not coming back to class after COVID-19. We can expect about 5% to 10% in the classroom, with the balance of the same quarter to a third participating synchronously online. Australian universities need to accept that fact, and provide a 21 century education.

Pre-COVID19 most students did not attend class, as they had lives, jobs, and families. Instead students made do with notes (as they always had), as well as videos, and online materials. This defacto blended/online education was not ideal, but workable. However, purpose designed flexible learning can be so much better. It can put resources into what actually helps students learn, rather than what is easiest for researchers, who are part time teachers, to deliver. This takes training, and time to prepare, but lowers the stress level for staff and students.

It is possible to design courses which can be delivered entirely online, but which have optional campus components, for students who have the time, and feel the need. Campuses can attract students, working together in supervised classes, and also in self organised teams on projects, with staff available when needed.

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