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Classroom Lectures Are Obsolete February 22, 2007

Posted by federalist in Education.

Ever since the invention of audio and video recording, non-interactive classroom lectures have been obsolete.  Why make teachers around the world stand up in front crowds of students to put on a live show when you could instead get one of the world’s best, most telegenic teachers, perfect and record a single production, and then distribute it to any interested student for a small fraction of the cost of a live performance?  Better quality, more convenient, less expensive.

Classroom and lab education still has its place, but our education paradigms have been woefully slow to adapt to the information age.  On a few recent trips I was listening to recorded lectures by Daniel Robinson from The Teaching Company.  They are at least as good as the best lectures on the subject I attended at Yale.

This complaint is sort of along the lines of my earlier post on performing artsGreg Mankiw’s blog also has a recent post on this subject.



1. federalist - February 24, 2007

Universities also seem to be catching the wave, as the WSJ reported last week. Among free sources of lectures and learning materials cited there: OpenCourseWare at MIT, Notre Dame, and Tufts. iTunes U at Stanford and Berkeley.

2. federalist - August 26, 2007

Wilfred McClay, a humanities professor, praises the Teaching Company and offers this constructive advice to the old brick-and-mortar learning institutions:

Rather than imitate the Teaching Company by seeking to digitize and standardize and commodify ever more of their own offerings, colleges and universities should instead build on their comparative advantages, and focus on the humanizing effects that they uniquely can impart–and work to impart them better.

3. federalist - September 15, 2008

Yale is offering a few “Open Courses.” Also some miscellaneous academic podcasts.

4. federalist - December 20, 2009

Baylor University sponsors the annual Cherry Teaching Award: a substantial prize given to exceptional college teachers. Following a review of this year’s finalists, Naomi Schaefer Riley summarizes the implications for the teaching profession:

All three finalists emphasize that teaching is something you have to work at. It takes time to prepare. It takes time to practice. It takes time to process the feedback from students. Maybe that sounds obvious. But the truth is that many professors don’t bother. It’s an old observation but a true one. At most colleges, promotion and tenure decisions are made based on a record of publication. Even at liberal-arts colleges, studies have shown that a financial premium is placed on publication.

And so last year more than 100 academic books were published on Shakespeare alone. According to a recent study by Mark Bauerlein of Emory University, the number of academic publications has soared more than 400% in the past half-century, to 72,000 from 13,000 per year. Meanwhile, universities continue to subsidize such work by giving reduced teaching loads to faculty members who publish. All told, a typical humanities monograph could cost as much as $50,000. Is this what parents are paying tuition for?

As senior professors are engaged in this endless publication, inexperienced and overworked adjunct professors and graduate students are engaged in teaching. … In an ideal world, senior professors, who have the most experience teaching, would be forced to teach freshman survey courses. Instead, professors at many universities are told by their mentors not to focus on teaching at all. And the joke on many campuses is that the winner of a school’s teaching award is guaranteed to be denied tenure.

Some academics say that publication is easier to measure than teaching, and that is why the university has settled on the system it has. And, alas, many parents have bought into this idea, not even bothering to check out what’s going on in the classrooms before signing their tuition checks. But student and peer evaluations can certainly go a long way toward correcting this measurement problem. There are surveys like the National Survey of Student Engagement that can be used to measure how much time students spend working outside the classroom, how often they interact with professors, and how bored they are in class. John Silber, the former longtime president of Boston University, told me that he never gave professors tenure without sitting in on their classes first. He insists that it is pretty easy to tell a good teacher from a bad one. “I damn sure wouldn’t hire or promote a faculty member to anything like that salary without having known what they are doing [in the classroom],” he told me recently.

5. federalist - April 4, 2010

From an essay by Andrew Coulson:

Consider the Kumon chain of after-school tutoring centers. Founded in 1954 by Japanese math teacher Toru Kumon, it now serves more than four million students in 42 countries. Not only does the tutoring sector reveal the feasibility of globe-spanning education growth, it offers a glimpse of how brilliant educators can and should be treated. Thanks to profit sharing and Web broadcasting of their lectures, top teachers in Korea’s tutoring sector earn big salaries and have virtual class sizes in the scores of thousands. The combination of high technology and market incentives not only allows but compels tutoring firms to recognize and make the most of their top teachers.

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