University lecturers in Australia are likely to become more didactic in their teaching and less willing to adopt new ideas because of worsening conditions, a senior researcher warns.
According to Michael Prosser, larger class sizes, greater emphasis on individual research output and the rise of bureaucratic "managerialism" are turning lecturers into information transmitters rather than encouraging students to change the way they think about subjects they are studying.
Professor Prosser is head of the academic development unit at La Trobe University in Melbourne and for the past five years has headed a national study into teaching and learning. He said the traditional lecture, where an academic stood in front of a large group and talked, did not encourage understanding of the discipline.
In an initial investigation, Professor Prosser and his colleagues surveyed 6,000 students on 60 first-year courses at nine universities in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.
The research identified six approaches to teaching among academics. At one extreme were teachers who lectured at their students, assuming they had no knowledge of the subject and their job was to transmit information for reproduction. At the other lecturers realised students had either an understanding or misunderstanding, which had to be changed by engaging them in the learning process.
Academics who used a "conceptual change" approach to their teaching were likely to develop in students a deeper rather than superficial attitude to learning, Professor Prosser said.
He said research was now focusing on how university management and leadership affected the quality of teaching and learning.