While I would agree that we have begun to and indeed must continue to move the core of university teaching away from the model of an instructor standing at a podium and lecturing at rows of students, I still think that the face-to-face communication between an instructor and their class has the potential to be a powerful learning experience.
When people speak of innovation in teaching, all too often they are often referring to using technology to deliver and/or facilitate the learning experience. E-learning technologies can indeed improve upon other facets of the learning experience, such as improving access across space (i.e. for people who cannot attend class in person) and over time (i.e. for people who cannot attend class at the time when it is held). This increased access provides greater flexibility to students who cannot, for whatever reason, take part of the regular class.
There are also arguments that e-learning, in removing these restrictions of physical space, location, and time, can increase the scalability of learning, making it available to more people than is possible in a traditional classroom setting. This can hold true only if (a) the instructor’s sole role in the learning process is to recite the content of the course, or (b) the instructor’s role in the learning process can be sufficiently captured in software so that their role can be assumed by the machines making up the e-learning system.
This has yet to be achieved in any significant way, and so the instructor remains the bottleneck in the process, and is only able to handle a limited amount of interaction with students. Even with the assistance of TAs, the teaching team is limited in their ability to deliver an adequate learning experience to the students. (This is true in traditional settings as well, most notably where you have classes of hundreds of students, and the teaching is reduced to content delivery and assessment methods chosen primarily for ease of marking.)
All that to say that I believe the university classroom experience will and should continue to be the focus of university learning (at least here at McGill), and it is one area of my practice that I want to continue to improve at. (For the record, I also believe that a blended approach to learning, where online and face-to-face experiences are brought together to facilitate learning. Fully online learning can also deliver effective learning opportunities: it just isn’t the focus of my practice.)
Lecturing : case studies, experience and practice is the book I picked to start me on my way. The case studies cover a wide range of teaching and lecturing situations, describing the challenges faced and the actions taken by the instructor to try to move forward. I found them to be quite useful, and ended up with more than a few ideas that I will try to incorporate into my own teaching. I was hoping for more details on how to organize the lectures as a group and individually, more on the nuts and bolts of creating, preparing, and delivering lectures. The cases do provide many ideas on how to break from the 55-minute ‘sage on the stage’ lecture style to something more dynamic and effective, but leave it to the reader to figure out the details.
Overall, though, this is a good read for anyone teaching, especially in higher ed. Recommended.