Mega-classes lead to new methods

March 6, 1998

LECTURERS are increasingly abandoning the lectern in favour of other teaching methods, according to the interim findings of a survey of universities.

Harold Silver, who is conducting the survey for the Economic and Social Research Council, was surprised to discover how much innovative teaching was going on.

"Every kind of university is involved in discussions about how to improve their teaching, and although some innovators feel isolated and unrecognised, many places now have a strong institutional thrust towards innovation", said Professor Silver, a visiting professor at the University of Plymouth.

Even in the most traditional university, lecturers were becoming more committed to change. "When you are suddenly faced with 150 students rather than 25 you may feel more disposed towards innovation," he added.

Computers played an important role in the new teaching methods but other techniques such as student-led seminars were fast gaining ground. Students were found to be preparing agendas, running seminars, organising reading lists and farming out responsibilities between themselves.

Staff were sometimes invited to join them, sometimes not, Professor Silver said. New types of teaching necessitated new assessment methods and peer or self-assessment were becoming increasingly common in some universities as were oral presentations of work.

Problem-based learning was also catching on, in some cases almost entirely replacing the old lecture style of giving out sequentially based information. Even when lectures were still being given, they tended to be more interactive.

Group work and work-based learning were also becoming more common.

The two-year survey, part of the ESRC's research programme on the Learning Society, is approximately half-finished. The first report is expected in May when 18 universities will have been surveyed in depth.

The second phase is expected to be jointly funded with the Scottish and English higher education funding councils.

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