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Students prefer good lectures over the latest technology in class

Survey of 15,000 Quebec university students shows they’re “old school” when it comes to teaching technology.

by Léo Charbonneau

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 Photo: Université de Sherbrooke.

University students prefer the “old school” approach of an engaging lecture over the use of the latest technological bells and whistles in the classroom. That was a finding in a recent study of the perceptions of students and professors in Quebec on the use of information and communications technologies, or ICTs, in higher learning.

“Students are old school – they want lectures. They want to listen to a professor who’s engaging, who’s intellectually stimulating and who delivers the content to them,” says Vivek Venkatesh, associate dean of academic programs and development in the school of graduate studies at Concordia University.
Dr. Venkatesh says this goes against much of what he hears at professional development workshops that stress interactive learning strategies, often using technology.

The study was conducted by Dr. Venkatesh in partnership with Magda Fusaro, a professor in the department of management and technology at Université du Québec à Montréal. Together, they conducted a pilot project at UQAM before rolling the survey out in 2011 to a dozen universities across the province, to which 15,000 undergraduate students and more than 2,500 instructors responded (for response rates of 10 percent and 20 percent respectively).

The results indicate that students and professors don’t always agree on what works best in the classroom, says Dr. Fusaro. “Our analysis showed that teachers think that their students feel more positive about their classroom learning experience if there are more interactive, discussion-oriented activities. In reality, engaging and stimulating lectures, regardless of how technologies are used, are what really predict students’ appreciation of a given university course.”

Nearly all instructors reported using ICTs in the classroom at least occasionally (only 46 of the 2,640 instructors reported never using ICTs). The technologies most frequently used were email and word processing and presentation software. Less used were things like blogs, wikis, specialized statistical software and computer games and simulations. (The full survey results, in French, are available here.)

Another interesting tidbit from the survey: students seem underwhelmed by the prospect of online learning. Dr. Venkatesh says this shows that “we need to understand better the benefits and pitfalls of these technologies before jumping on a particular bandwagon,” such as massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

Dr. Venkatesh says he hopes the results will have a broad impact, especially in terms of curriculum design and professional development. “I’m looking forward to many, many months of analyzing this data.”

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Comments on this Article

I am a teacher but I consider myself a novice when it comes to using technology in class.I have always admired my colleagues who can employ techs in various ways in their classes.I especially like the use of digital multi-media because of its colorfulness and the funny, but instructive, role-play scenes.Students would love to watch them again and again. So, though I am not conversant with technologies, I am not at all against using them in class. They spice up(to borrow one of the commentator's expression) the lesson or the lecture and can do an excellent job revising for exams.

Posted by ibrahim hussein, Jan 20, 2014 3:21 PM

Lectures and classroom technology are not mutually exclusive. Any technology can be used effectivelly in the classroom and depends on the topic been address and the content being explained. Technology may complement and facilitates both teaching and learning, but it does not mean learning is can now be had exclusively by using technology. Most first year students and beyond come to university with skewed ideas about learning. They just want to memorize few things and expect those few things to be in their power points or the like and nothing more. That is where the problem stars.

Posted by George Boskenn, Oct 7, 2013 1:58 AM

Vince, you're absolutely right. But as I've said several times, most articles that present the advantages of computer-based instruction also actively malign the live lecture ....

Why do they have to do that?

Posted by Reuben Kaufman, Nov 28, 2012 4:56 PM

I can always put to use what I have learned from my professor provided, the materials/informations were intellectually stimulating. Technology is great, but I prererred to listen to words of wisdom from my professor.
I have been teaching at a college level for approximately five years, and students love what they hear. Engaging lectures and miminum group or interactive acitivities is what students respond to best.
We need to listen to our students and learn to include global issues and critical thinking into our teaching methods.

Posted by Nancy Reeves, Nov 27, 2012 2:01 PM

While I do not disagree with the premise that engaging lectures (and lecturers) inspire learning, the literature is rich with research suggesting that students may be as satisfied with technology-mediated learning as traditional (lecture; f2f) formats.

It is also worth mentioning that there is middle ground-that of web-enhanced/hybrid/blended formats where students can receive the best of all worlds, traditional and technology-mediated learning "all in one". At the end of the day, inspired learning really comes down to engagement and the quality of student-faculty and student-peer interactions.

Posted by Vince Salyers, Nov 26, 2012 3:48 PM

This correlates with a theory I've had for a while: that people are using technology largely to make interpersonal connections. Facebooking, Tweeting, instant messaging are all about communications. Of course students relate more to their professor than to any technology he/she uses in class: they want a personal connection with the person in front of them.

Posted by Aldene Fredenburg, Nov 23, 2012 10:09 AM

Let me comment on Sharon Boller's contribution:

You are absolutely spot on when you write:

"The lecture is only a starting point to learning. What drives the amount of "learning" a student takes away from a classroom experience is going to be how much the learner invests in embedding the information in his or her long-term memory ... The learning happens when the learner has to do something with the information received in the lecture...."

I have always told my students on day 1 that they aren't going to learn anything during my lecture. They will be exposed to ideas (much more important than factoids), but it's what they do with those ideas, and whether they wish to engage with me after the lecture that will contribute to "learning". The best I can hope for (if I present my story well) is that students will be inspired to learn. Lecturing is not a form of learning. But it can be an excellent pathway to learning.

Unfortunately not all students at university have a burning desire to learn, but that's a completely different issue.

Posted by Reuben Kaufman, Nov 22, 2012 5:42 PM

The article appears to conflate active learning with technology, which is misleading. I am pleased with the students' desire for less technologically driven instruction. However, active learning does not require technology. It requires an engage faculty member, which the survey seems to suggest is also what the students want. I would be interested to see results comparing non-technologically driven active learning strategies compared to traditional lectures. Those results would be more enlightening. Finally, I also agree with another post: students prefer good lectures. However, I have found that they prefer an engaged class discussion or activity over even the best lecture.

Posted by Greg Doran, Nov 22, 2012 2:43 PM

Let's try again, this time reading more carefully: "Students prefer GOOD lectures over the LATEST technology in class."

Posted by Rob, Nov 22, 2012 11:40 AM

In the latest technology in education, a very helpful tool is available online. The tool is called virtual classroom and can be used for online teaching and learning. This tool has changed the world scenario of teaching and learning. You can have a look at the tool at http://www.wiziq.com/virtual_classroom.aspx. They also offer 30-day free trial.

Posted by Sarpreet, Nov 22, 2012 7:40 AM

This article ignores fact that preferences do not correlate with outcomes. There have been numerous studies done to show that learner preferences do not equate with actual learning. I can prefer to learn new material via a video or a lecture, but that does not mean I will actually learn this material BEST via those delivery methods.

There have been 4000+ studies done on "learning styles" and "learning preferences." None of them showed that learners learned better if their preference was catered to.

The key to learning is the active mental involvement of the learner. The lecture is only a starting point to learning. What drives the amount of "learning" a student takes away from a classroom experience is going to be how much the learner invests in embedding the information in his or her long-term memory. A single lecture does not help someone learn, though, if done well, it may keep their attention for the short-term. The learning happens when the learner has to do something with the information received in the lecture....take notes, write a paper, complete a project, analyze and contrast, etc.

Finally, a poor lecture is not made better with the use of technology. Technology - like the lecture - is a tool for delivering information. It's what students do with the information they receive that dictates how much learning happens. When technology enables them to interact with it, explore it, or extend it, it becomes a powerful tool. If "technology" equals PowerPoint, then it is pretty useless.

Posted by Sharon Boller, Nov 22, 2012 7:34 AM

This:
"The technologies most frequently used were email and word processing and presentation software."

Translation: "Students preferred lectures to "Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint."

I love technology in education, but I'd prefer lectures too if that's what is considered "effective" use of technology.

Posted by Mike Smart, Nov 21, 2012 11:44 PM

The problem of course is that many 'lecturers' are not 'engaging', and neither are their lectures. The latter are too often snore-fests. So, yes, an 'engaging' lecturer is desirable. But the inference that other means of teaching and learning are ineffective or less desirable than lecturing is not valid. This article is rather disingenuous.

Posted by Sean O, Nov 21, 2012 8:52 PM

Students do NOT prefer old school methods of teaching,over technology enhanced presentations of material. They want to be engaged and taught by someone who actually appears to know and enjoy the material. However, there will always be students who want everything handed to them - eg.lecture notes taken directly from the text, that eventually become exam questions. Unfortunately this is also supported by instructors who look at student centered teaching as too time consuming - it's much easier to lecture straight out of the text than trying to engage students with interesting and current examples. I believe the UA has presented a very skewed summary of the actual study.

Posted by C. Siermacheski, Nov 21, 2012 4:48 PM

I think that Messieurs Slavin and Bird make very good points. The problem is that most articles that promote ICT also seem to malign lecturing. I guess from the Venkatesh Fusaro study we can at least learn that there is no reason to automatically discount "lecturing"; it shouldn't be either one or the other.

Mind you, I'm somewhat ashamed that I read only Leo's article and not the original study. I deserve a wag-of-the-finger!

Posted by Reuben Kaufman, Nov 21, 2012 3:51 PM

Having just read the original article in French, I think that the summary in University Affairs misses a major point. It is the quality of the instruction which is most important for the students, and "for the students, the more the technologies are used effectively during their courses, the more they feel that they have had a good course." Thankfully, students do "prefer
interesting intellectual challenges and masterful presentations which utilize teaching materials which are knowledgeable, pertinent and significant." The job of instructors is to provide the best learning experience for the students.

The research (at least in physics) shows conclusively that students learn much better with interative teaching than with even excellent lecturers. (e.g., http://www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/2011/05/12/interactive-teaching-methods-double-learning-engagement-in-large-undergraduate-physics-class/).

The results of the Quebec survey may be partly due to bad teaching with technology, which is common, and partly due to the common preception, particularly among first-year students, that "learning" means memorization and regurgitation rather than analytical mastery of the material. Such students often resent the thinking that is required for good interactive teaching.

Posted by Alan Slavin, Nov 21, 2012 3:36 PM

Enfin! Bravo Professors Venkatesh and Fusaro!

A formal study that demonstrates something that many of us have felt intuitively for a long time. Good lecturing engages students; engaged students are inspired to learn.

Good lectures will never go out of fashion any more than good ICTs. Any tool can be used effectively or not. Let's hope that at least UA will no longer malign "the lecture" in articles without presenting at least some editorial caveat.

Posted by Reuben Kaufman, Nov 21, 2012 3:16 PM

Certainly, students have their preferences about how course material is delivered. But is this preference aligned with the best practice?

It isn't what students teaching methodologies students prefer that should matter most, but what methodologies are most effective.

I would suggest that they may not be the same.

Posted by David A Bird, Nov 21, 2012 3:13 PM

Thank-you so much for this. I was beginning to doubt what seemed so obviously true. With all of the hub-bub about flipping classrooms, tech-based means of student engagement, and so on, one has to wonder how much science is behind the popular media curtain, or whether there is merely some feeble old guy with huge investments in technology, e-publishing, and on-line delivery systems speaking so loudly that this is all that can be heard.

Posted by Dave Webb, Nov 21, 2012 3:07 PM

This article turns the report on its head. This type of reporting on research studies is quite common in the mainstream press, but is unbecoming of University Affairs. The reporter fails to mention that the majority of both teachers and students like technology in the classroom. And then tries to turn this report into one that is anti-technology.
The fact is that If students want to listen to a professor who’s engaging, who’s intellectually stimulating and who delivers the content to them, then that leaves out many if not most of the classroom lectures that can be mediocre at best, and opens up great possibilities for online video lectures from the world's most stimulating instructors. So he cannot used the fact that students like stimulating lectures to argue against online teaching. The report doesn't make that extrapolation.
This study is about the use of technology in the classroom not online and reflects some disappointment of how technology is being used by instructors in that milieu. The study therefore shows that we need to understand better the benefits and pitfalls of classroom teaching if we want to stay on that "bandwagon" rather than a critique of online learning.
It should be noted that the report is downloadable with a Creative Commons licence, but the authors also include a statement that it cannot be reproduced without permission. The CC they invoke negates this need for permission AND so does fair dealing.

Posted by Rory McGreal, Nov 21, 2012 2:22 PM

I very much appreciate this article about lecturing. Of course other techniques can shake things up and should be employed at times. But frankly when I find an eager proponent of, say, group work and student-directed discussions, I often (although not always) find a professor who simply can't lecture; and, worse, is not liked by their students. So sure, they should do what they must to improve the experience for students. But the idea, echoed like dogma these days, that good lecturers should conform to these new fashions is just so much baloney -- and, again, often a telling admission of inadequacy at old school lecturing. As for me: In my own case I lecture to large classes, and use a mixed approach with small classes and seminars. Amazingly, students repeatedly demonstrate that they care about... content! They are also impressed by passion. That is what matters, ultimately. Bravo.

Posted by todd dufresne, Nov 21, 2012 2:06 PM


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