Saturday, August 18, 2018

What is a lecture worth?

Today you can watch millions of university lectures in all disciplines completely free and in many cases download them to your mobile or tablet. In addition, many universities offer course content as open courseware. For the past 15 years we have seen that content is no longer king and since it is openly available for free the real value of a university lies in providing the context through teachers who can lead discussions, put issues into perspective, inspire, challenge and support their students. However most institutions still protect their content, locking it away from public view, as if it was a valuable commodity. Of course there is content that may be sensitive but since so many universities in the world are state funded it seems strange to hide content that has been publicly funded.

An article by Joshua Kim in Inside Higher Ed, An Incredible College Lecture Is Now Worth 40 Cents, highlights this issue through the example of an online course on the history of London. This course is not open or free but the cost says something about the value of even high quality content.

I purchased this course from the Amazon owned As a Platinum Annual subscriber, the cost for the course was $9.56. The course has 24 lectures of about 30 minutes each. The cost per lecture, therefore, is about 40 cents. 40 cents.

Despite the line-up of leading authorities in the field and high quality production the course price is extremely low. Even in a commercial setting the price is 40 cents per lecture. Of course if you take a MOOC or other open course the cost is precisely zero. At the same time quality content is extremely valuable for the learner in terms of their learning and is also expensive to create. I'm not sure how sustainable this model is and in the end we may see a system whereby micro-payments per user can finance content production in some way. Those who produce good content deserve some reward and incentive to continue.

However in a world where so much content is free and often licensed for reuse and adaptation then why do so many institutions still spend so much time and money on making their own content? If content is easily shared then institutions can reuse and adapt content at low cost and focus their attention on adding real value in terms of fostering learning and supporting students. Do many universities still base their courses on content delivery and their examinations on content recall? Shouldn't teachers be encouraged to use more open content and spend their own time helping students to make sense of them? Kim ends his article with these two questions:

Is your school transitioning from a teacher/content focus to a learner/learning focus?

How do we keep what is wonderful about the lecture format, but fold in elements of active and relational learning in to the DNA of higher education?

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