Is the lecture theatre dead?

May 11, 2015
Article Promo Image

We all know there’s nothing harder than dragging yourself out of a cosy bed on a cool morning to head to yet another boring lecture.

University programs have traditionally been helmed by all-knowing lecturers droning away in drab, fluoro-lit lecture theatres. Student input has been limited to note-taking and listening – by definition, lecture theatres don’t seem to encourage interaction.

Fortunately for today’s uni students, education methods are changing, stimulating more effective learning, and reflecting modern workplace practices. It looks like we can kiss tired old learning spaces goodbye.

The old-fashioned lecture model is already being stamped out at secondary school level, where teacher-turned-journalism-student Will Brown says it’s now “all about minimising teacher instruction time and maximising self-guided learning”.

The University of Technology, Sydney’s Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, Professor Ian Burnett, agrees tertiary education must reflect students’ desire to actively learn by engaging with the material.

“It’s a proven way of learning what high schools have known about for years,” he says.

And that’s why UTS constructed a state-of-the-art building last year, architecturally designed to foster interactive learning and to stimulate students.

 An array of informal study spaces is also dotted throughout the building that encourage students to stay, play, study and even sleep if they need to.

The purpose-built site favours collaborative spaces aimed at team learning and discussion. In the formal learning areas – the closest thing they have to classrooms – Professor Burnett says UTS is “significantly reducing the amount of one-way lecturing … and moving towards facilitated learning in these collaborative learning spaces”.

An array of informal study spaces is also dotted throughout the building. “Superb” Wi-Fi connection, large LCD display screens, ample IT facilities, beanbags, and dynamic small-group meeting spaces such as acoustically shielded “pods”, encourage students to stay, play, study and even sleep if they need to.

“If we can get students to come here and use the facilities and stay longer on campus, it actually creates a much better learning environment,” says Professor Burnett.

“Students have really grabbed hold of the opportunity.”

UTS has created a casual atmosphere, inspired in part by the modern work environments of pioneering companies such as Apple and Google. Students learn to self-direct and use their initiative in their study practice – essential traits they’ll need to carry over into the workplace.

Professor Burnett points out these new techniques and spaces mean that students will need to work hard in order to reap the benefits, and without traditional lecture-based delivery of content, they’ll no longer be spoon-fed.

“You have to make an effort and decide how you are going to work in the space.”

But it’s not just fancy buildings that facilitate advanced learning methods. At the other end of the spectrum, virtual learning spaces are also providing busy, tech-savvy students with alternatives to the dreaded lecture theatre.

If we’re all studying from the comfort of beanbags at uni or in our pyjamas at home, will we really end up qualified for the demands of the real-life workforce?

Higher education provider Open Universities Australia has delivered qualifications to almost half a million people via malleable online methods. With convenience and flexibility being the main benefits touted, the prospect of being able to study anywhere, anytime, and at one’s own pace, is luring many into taking the online plunge.

Even private providers of short courses are following suit, recognising the need for on-demand training. The Australian Film, Television and Radio School uses chatroom technology to host weekly online classes in screenwriting, radio, music composition, animation and more. They encourage prospective students from interstate to “save the airfare” by studying online.

But if in the near future we’re all studying from the comfort of beanbags at uni or in our pyjamas at home, will we really end up qualified for the demands of the real-life workforce?

Professor Burnett believes we absolutely will, but that students and academics need to be prepared for the challenge.

“We can create great things, but it requires everyone to take part,” he says.

He cautions some academics face a shift out of their comfort zone, away from the old lecturing model. Meanwhile, students must take greater responsibility for their own education. But the rewards will make any transitional difficulty worthwhile.

“What universities are providing [for students] is the ability to work with other students and with academics, to explore the information and grow your own knowledge.”

It’s an exciting new outlook, and one that should make it much easier to jump out of bed and get to uni in the morning.

Phoebe Hartley

Phoebe makes films, eats dumplings and studies journalism. She tweets sporadically at @phoebehartley.

Image: Anna Tesar, Flickr Creative Commons license

×