Recorded lectures are a bore and a poor substitute for face-to-face. As numerous studies now document, replacing classroom lectures, whose attendance rates are declining, with video podcast ones does not provide a solution to the question of short attention spans. Research tells us that by and large those who benefit the most from online lectures are those who would have no difficulty of comprehension in the classroom, while most others are left behind. At stake is one essential ingredient of successful “live” lectures: the students’ ability to engage with the instructor, the back and forth of questions asked and comments offered and then commented further by classmates. Hannah Forsythe, a senior lecturer in history at the Australian Catholic University, spices up her own face-to-face lectures through the use of videos, quizzes and fun questions aimed at the class. This, she argues, is in line with the students’ growing need for investment in their human capital. ‘Inducing students to work actively in lectures does not translate well to a crackly recording from a lapel microphone’, Times Higher Education, 18-24 October 2018.
Gen Z students want a return on investment. According to a new Chronicle of Higher Education report, new-generation students in the United States, known as Gen Z, give even more significance to the labor-market value of a college degree than their predecessors, the millennials, did – no doubt a consequence of the 2008 financial and economic crisis. Gen Z students are also more diverse and inclusion-conscious, and they view technology as an extension of themselves. This has an impact on their entire learning process, which they like to be project-based and combine independent and group tasks with instructor-led work. However, they are likely to need more personal development support than their elders with issues such as study habits, wellness or campus speech. The report offers many more valuable insights about Gen Z students and the ways in which colleges can best cater to their needs. The New Generation of Students, How colleges can recruit, teach and serve Gen Z, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2018.
How data analytics can improve teaching. On many American campuses, administrators, deans, student advisers and institutional researchers are already immersed in the use of student data – from demographics and course transcripts to socioeconomic data and financial aid. But by and large faculty are more reluctant to tap into this resource. Yet advocates argue that doing so could improve the quality of their teaching. Large universities such as Carnegie Mellon, the University of California at Davis or the University of Central Florida have centers where experts help professors understand their students’ learning behavior better, and professors use this knowledge in their course design to increase student success. Specific subjects thus delved into include student choice, demographics, preparation and performance. In some models, student online behavior is scrutinized for clues on how the students’ mind works. Through data, it is possible to detect, among other things, early-warning signs for students at risk, potential biases built into teaching, or stereotype risks. But this requires well-designed research projects submitted by professors to the data experts, because the amount of data available is so vast that making it make sense remains a challenge. Can Data Make You a Better Teacher?, Beth McMurtrie, The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 3, 2019.
In device-free classes, engagement and critical thinking blossom. Some bold instructors still dare to ban the use of laptops in the classroom. As can be expected from a generation of digital natives, students’ initial reaction is one of skepticism and unease. But at the end of the semester, in the experience of Ioannis Costas Batlle, a lecturer in education at the University of Bath, their satisfaction with the laptop ban is overwhelming. This, however, requires ample restructuring of the way classes are taught. Instead of having students passively taking notes on knowledge delivered by the instructor, the goal is to get them to engage critically with content, challenge and question their peers as well as the lecturer. The main points to be discussed are thus provided in a handout, given in advance and which students must bring to class, and the instructor draws on multiple resources while striving to develop a warm relationship with each student. Students are also asked to work in pairs during workshop sessions. The preparation effort is greater than what is required for a more traditional class, but the extra investment, says Ioannis Costas Batlle, is well worth it. For deep learning, close lid on laptops, Ioannis Costas Battle, Times Higher Education, 21-27 February 2019.
Better universities for Africa? Higher education has expanded rapidly in Africa over the past three decades, but quality has not kept pace. The African Union (AU) has therefore outlined a plan for an “integrated Africa”, called Agenda 2063. The goal is to harmonize and strengthen the quality of higher education on the continent, to make it both “locally relevant and globally competitive”. To that end, a set of African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Higher Education has been developed in partnership with the EU, with the objective of putting in place comparable quality standards across African universities. Implementation will not be easy due to the diversity of national, regional and institutional structures, political instability and the lack of funding. But this initiative is urgently needed in the current situation, as the lack of oversight within and across countries produces huge differences in standards and very uneven quality among institutions of higher learning through the continent, in particular between public and private universities. This also hampers academic mobility. However, though the pan-African standards have been finalized, they will have to wait until 2020-21 for the official endorsement by higher education ministers at AU level. Can quality drive realise the dream of African unity?, Times Higher education, 28 February-6 March 2019.