The BBC reports a Bradford university lecturer making his lectures available as podcasts. I’ve been thinking this would be a good idea for a while. The idea that having a lecturer repeatedly plough through their slides in a big room at a set time is an effective way of transmitting understanding doesn’t bear much weight.
You could argue that a lecture allows feedback but in too many lectures the feedback is the frequency of hypnic jerks in the back row. Students rarely ask questions, and the ones that do don’t need to be asked. Pretty much the sole reason for the university lecture is tradition. It was invented when the only way of transmitting information was to have someone actually listen and perhaps copy it down (if they were literate). We are a little past that now.
I ought to point out I’m distinguishing lecturing from tutoring here. The difference being that a tutorial is, or should be, structured so that the session can only move with the understanding of the tutees. They are driving the thing along, not the tutor. Seminars, where the audience is critical and highly-motivated are also useful.
So, with a podcast you could listen to the lecturer read from his slides in your own time. Hmmm, we can probably do better than this. We need feedback for a start. The blog, with a commenting system, seems to be a good place to start. Except a chronological list of comments is not a good format for a discussion. Maybe a bulletin-board then? Each lecture can be represented by a forum and each thread is one line of discussion.
The big advantage of this is that you end up with not just a persistent, reusuable dollop of lecture-material but also a bunch of persistent feedback which can be used to lick it into shape. Perhaps when the content has matured then it can even be wikified by the lecturer…
Here’s the kicker: if you don’t need lectures halls to give lectures, in fact if you don’t need to be anywhere need the lecturer at any time, then what do you need teaching universities for again? You can replace a lot of ‘facilities’ with an off-the-shelf website. The only things that you can’t replace are teaching experts and certification.