Death of the lecture

Online learning is now replacing onsite lectures, with teaching delivered directly to students’ computers.

Many educational materials have already moved to the digital realm: agendas, reading material, PowerPoint presentations, exams. Now, the lecture itself is going online, reports Quartz.

At Texas A&M University, two economics teachers have begun giving an introductory lecture online this fall, not to a few hundred students, but to thousands. All the sessions have been pre-recorded and interactively engineered, and all the reading material and homework prepared. To keep students engaged, the lecturer writes on a transparent whiteboard through which the camera captures his expression and motions.

In a lecture hall, student attention can easily float away unnoticed. The digital version forces participants to remain keenly present by watching short videos then immediately answer questions to test their attentiveness. It’s possible to closely monitor individual students with alerts that allow teachers and students to pick up problems before they get out of hand and lead to failed exams. “We can do a diagnosis for kids – and not an autopsy,” comments Jon Meer, one of the two economics professors.

There is, however, a major drawback: the lack of social interaction in a learning format that allows students to study in the isolation of their room, a situation already strongly encouraged by social media. Students will not discuss and debate issues, seize other’s questions and viewpoints.

One A&M economics graduate student commented: “I’ve done quite a few job interviews, and one of the things I notice a lot of companies value is the soft skills. Do you have the ability to interact with people and have a good conversation? Having online classes will hurt that. You could take the class online in your pajamas and never interact with students or the professor.