The future of university teaching


The future direction of university teaching is getting lots of air time. See for example here. I have posted my thoughts on this before.

A key issue is that on-line courses are still being designed as if they were classroom courses. They involve videos of lectures. This is dumb. It fails to use the potential of the new media. The course of the future will not be a set of video lectures but will be a set of on-line resources and class discussions facilitated by academics and professional university teachers. For an example of the sort of thing that can be done, see here for a video on the production possibility frontier.  My own (much more simplistic) effort on opportunity cost is here – simply keynote and iMovie.

There are a huge range of these resources available on the internet already (and suggestions of sites, etc, for first year microeconomics are very welcome). But at present these resources are being gathered and augmented on a lecturer-by-lecturer and course-by-course basis. The first university in Australia that systematically reinvents its teaching to use the available resources and builds a cache of its own will grab a considerable teaching advantage. While the Go8 universities may not need this reform (their research and ‘brand’ reputations will mean they continue to get the best students) there are 31 other universities that should be racing to reinvent their classroom and education experience.


5 Responses to "The future of university teaching"
  1. A long time ago at Southern Cross University I was involved in a project to create a business game in “moo”. Moo was a text based virtual reality where you could code up objects to interact with. Text based adventure like Zork.

    This meant people could interact with each other although they were in different parts of NSW.

    The game was based on the idea of solving puzzles as a substitute for factory production, you had to forecast how many you would produce and the market for them, buy or sell, negotiate with others for buying, selling, and producing.

    THe thing about moo code is that it’s relatively easy to learn. The kind of games we think of now, video games, are difficult and expensive. Just like the pictures are better on radio, the pictures are better in text for a lot less money.

    IT doesn’t solve the synchronicity problem, people had to be logged on all at the same time. But it was machine agnostic, worked on slow connections, and it could log a lot of things meaning that sticking points were obvious and people could be helped through them and lectures altered.

    THe other thing about moo/mush/mud (all variants of the same thing) is that because simple coding is not that hard to do students can make their own immersive environment, or make one for others.

    Anything from flash cards to interactive learning quizzes involving “looking” at various sources to find information to full on roleplaying.

    I think that’s the kind of thing that universities should be looking at as part of the “doesn’t have to be a lecture” idea.

    Alas because it doesn’t have pretty pictures and you don’t use a mouse it is unlikely to be even vaguely interesting. Pity, because it worked with screen readers (there were several written as clients) and much of the fancy stuff out there does not.

    (And it is less difficult than you might think for those whose English is not solid as the interaction was reasonably constrained and typing/writing is often a lot easier than speaking.)

    Should this by some odd chance pique anyone’s interest then might be a place to start.

  2. In principle, these are great.

    Now figure out a workload model that allows and indeed creates incentives for academics to a) devote the time needed to create this course material, and b) devote the time needed to iteratively improve it, given that some things won’t work and other points will need to be revised over time, particularly in evolving fields like IT.

  3. Not sure it is necessary to figure out that workload model: “While the population of LambdaMOO once numbered close to 10,000 with over 300 actively connected at any time, these days it is rare to see more than a few dozen actively participating connected players at one time.” (from the wikipedia article that Zebee linked to) While getting people involved is clearly important (and essential for learning I would argue), in the end it seems not to have been enough to maintain their interest in the LambdaMOO example.

  4. That is an interesting video on the ppf. I agree with you Stephen, the point is not to just video lectures and stick them up, but to create material that captures student’s attention. Pictures are much more important than text in enhancing student retention, and yet it is still common in economics classes and seminars to see only the most rudimentary graphs and table of numbers. I think we economists have a lot of work to do in creating this type of material, and then converting undergraduate classrooms into a different type of place – in particular much more interactive.

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