The classroom is still seen as a symbol for education; it's where teaching takes place and is the arena for input, discussion and practice. Classroom time is often viewed as the essential difference between a formal course and self-study and it is here that the teacher’s expertise is most clearly visible.
This model has become blurred by the use of the net in education. Input in the form of lectures or demonstrations can easily be recorded and made available whenever students want to view them. Discussions can take place in social networks, forums and learning management systems and students can collaborate on assignments using a variety of sharing tools. Despite these opportunities we still persist with a lot of classroom time that is essentially one-way traffic. Hundreds of years of tradition don’t just disappear overnight but an increasing amount of people in education are beginning to wonder what the real value of classroom time is.
This is the topic of a blog post by Clive Shepherd, Why face-to-face should be for special occasions. When we insist on students making the journey to campus (many of whom live miles away) we should do so for a very good reason. Of course events like lab sessions and other hands-on activities where students need to use special equipment and learn particular skills must be face to face (though they can be supplemented by online work such as virtual labs etc). For other activities Clive narrows the field down to two types that are best done face-to-face:
- Events that you would take the trouble to travel to because they may well turn out to be milestones in your life. An example would be a great speaker at a conference or a world-renowned teacher.
- Events for which the primary benefit is making and renewing contacts. Many conferences and classroom courses fit in this category.
Some lectures are so inspirational that they must be witnessed live but most are not and can be equally well delivered online with the added value that they can be reviewed at any time. Discussion seminars can also be stimulating and rewarding in class but can also be held online (synchronously or asynchronously) with the added value that quieter students get the chance to participate and the discussion can be deeper since everyone has more time to consider the issues.
As more and more students realize this they will question the need to attend classes that don’t provide added value. They can already access information, link up with experts around the world, form their own learning groups and collaborate so we’re going to need to sell the added value of classroom time in the near future. We need to start reviewing what the role of campus really is and make sure that class time is indeed unmissable.