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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 | NOV 21 2012

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.

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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  1. todd dufresne / November 21, 2012 at 14:06

    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.

  2. Dave Webb / November 21, 2012 at 15:07

    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.

  3. David A Bird / November 21, 2012 at 15:13

    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.

  4. Reuben Kaufman / November 21, 2012 at 15:16

    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.

  5. Alan Slavin / November 21, 2012 at 15:36

    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.

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