Lectures: A Current Trend in Adult Education

“Adult education takes place within various contexts: Lectures dispense knowledge and spread ideas; Tutorials share knowledge and exchange ideas; Study groups practice knowledge and generate ideas. So how do instructors help students learn effectively in each of them?”

Many Universities still hold lectures for hundreds of students per week in 1st year courses. Many of these are introductory survey courses that require memorizing theories, concepts, and practices. Critical thinking remains a common standard in assessing students’ understanding of the material in a collegiate level, most course assignments are course journals, short essays, term papers.

However, the gaps between what instructors teach and what students learn continue to grow larger over time. For example, SFU’s PSYC 100 and PSYC 102 courses no longer held tutorial sessions since 2008. Consequently teaching assistants were no longer hired, and their tutorial centre was converted into a research centre.

As long as lectures remain a trend in post-secondary education, instructors are still required to teach. However unless they also conducts tutorial sessions, the majority of their time with students would be giving lectures.

Granted, professors often answer questions during and after lecture, and most hold office hours to answer questions. However, not many students approach professors this way. So, the range of approaches and techniques for university instructors are often very limited. This is especially true for courses without teaching assistants who interact with students in more ways, more often. Therefore, the more ways instructors can interact and involve students in their learning process, the more they will benefit and grow from their studies.

When considering some effective ways for instructors to improve and expand their teaching approaches and techniques, I’ve come across this article: Becoming a Better Teacher: Articles for New and Not-So-New Faculty by Maryellen Weimer, PhD.

Some of article’s key points provide ideas for why and how we should develop effective instructional methods for post-secondary faulty:

  1. While all professors are excellent researchers and writers by virtue of their PhD’s, not all of them are excellent teachers and instructors (e.g. see SFU students’ feedback in Rate My Professors).
  2. All professors lead very busy lives as researchers, faculty members, instructors. They have families, social, and personal lives as well. So few find the time to develop their teaching throughout their tenure. (e.g. during my last semester in grad school a graduate instructor I knew was teaching 2 undergrad courses and 1 grad course while running her research, and supervising 2 grad students at the same time).
  3. Like the first observation, most professors are experienced in giving lectures and presentations at conferences, but not many of them translate this experience into inspiring and encouraging students to think and apply about what they are studying.
  4. Similarly, I do not know of an accredited system in BC that ensures all faculty members are properly trained to plan curriculum, deliver instruction, prepare assignments, design rubrics, and keep improving. If BC’s Ministry of Education has Teacher Education Programs for their elementary and secondary school teachers, why not build programs for post-secondary instructors? Perhaps this is what Provincial Instructor Diploma Program (PIDP) is for, but according to VCC’s latest Career Prospects Survey only 1% of its 2009-2013 were university professors. On the other hand, 61% were employed as college & vocational school instructors.

Granted, it’s definitely not easy to develop critical thinking with only one instructor for first year classes. A lack of human resources, as well the prescribed format and layout of big lectures, appears to be major factors for keeping to the status quo. It’s intriguing, and mind-boggling to imagine the costs and benefits of converting big lecture halls (where students are kind of stuck to their seats until they leave) into big workshop conference rooms with chairs and tables (where students can form groups and move around better). It would certainly require a lot more renovation and a lot more money to make this kind of change happen in the university itself. This idea would challenge the construct, and construction, of lecture halls in general.

“As more students enter universities, the stakes are higher for adult educators to develop even better quality instruction and learning so that more students can become researchers and faculty who would train the next generation of students.”

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