Students will defend need for traditional learning

Many students will “defend to the death” the need for traditional campus-based lectures, and will only delve into the world of free online educational resources if instructed to by their teachers, a conference has heard.

March 30, 2013

Toni Pearce, National Union of Students vice-president for further education, and one of the candidates to become the new president, challenged the perception that students were increasingly turning to the web for their education, and in doing so overlooking more traditional campus-based learning.

Speaking at the Open Educational Resources conference at the University of Nottingham on 26 March, she revealed some findings from an NUS survey of 2,800 students, due to be published in June, assessing their attitude to online resources.

“Students are actually quite conservative in their use of open educational resources (OERs),” she said. “The students in our sample were clear that while many made use of them in their own learning, they were much more likely to do so when it was part of their course and it had been suggested to them by their lecturer.

“Where lecturers do not value OERs and do not signal that the use of OERs will help in their learning, and in particular where students are not offered technical support in their use of them, they absolutely won’t use them.”

She added: “I was quite surprised to find that students will absolutely defend to the death the lecture – a mode of learning that many of us are getting used to thinking of as an out-of-date method of teaching.”

Ms Pearce also questioned the findings of a recent Institute of Public Policy Research report, An Avalanche is Coming: higher education and the revolution ahead,which warned that established universities could go bust if they failed to react to the proliferation of online education.

“An avalanche? Please. Higher education and the revolution ahead? It sounds terrifying. But the basis of the argument is that students in the future will have no interest in attending formalised education because they can consume content elsewhere, not last online.” Contrary to this, she said, the survey found that students value the sense of community they get from traditional education.

“We can accomplish a great deal more when we’re working in a community than when we’re working alone,” Ms Pearce said.

The survey, produced in partnership with the Higher Education Academy, also revealed that some students were resistant to the idea of free online learning, and the sharing of open resources, because they have to pay for their tuition.

“A number of the students involved in our research expressed a view that people not registered as students should not have access to educational resources. They felt that making educational resources available to the public was unfair,” she said.

“It’s possible to see where this view is coming from and hard to know how to manage it. Within the new fee regime…the idea of openness will sit ever more uneasily alongside the policies of marketisation and competitiveness.”

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Reader's comments (6)

Happy to be the first to comment here. Toni's Keynote was a highnote of the conference and the report to which she refers is one which is eagerly awaited. It is worth stressing that the remarks made by students in that report and quoted in Toni's speech are not necessarily informed by any experience in online education, nor any use (directed or otherwise) of OER in their courses. If you are interested in what may happen when students are actively engaged in studying within a course where they are paying and others are not the experience of the PHONOR project in Coventry may interest you. See Some students in that course initially voiced the same views as those reflected in the NUS survey. However the benefits of being open have been tested and embraced during that course. What has been key here and is most exciting about open resources is the potential for openness to create new and unusual opportunitities for students. Ones which are both authentic (stepping beyond their course confines, with expert facilitation and support and an eye on employability), experimental (empowering students) and sustainable (with students able to continue to engage as mentors and alumni as they move on). Is this scary to students? Maybe. It is well worth exploring and pushing forward in a world where instances of open education increasingly works through interaction with an open landscape (employement and education) which includes open access, open data, open research, open innovation, etc. A great conference (although as co-chair I may of course be biased). Read some of the blog posts (including one on Toni's talk) at Yes, this is part of the opening up of this conference to people who can't be there by people who paid to be there. The full programme, is available at (choose full programme), video/audio will be added and select papers will be published in JIME (an open access journal of course) later this year.
I expect that similar comments would have been made about traditional newspapers a few years ago, it just takes a while for a new mode to become accepted. Universities should she this as an exciting challenge to finally leave the middle ages and devise new modes of teaching.
@Clive King Universities have a function that is quite different from newspapers. And, as Ben Goldacre has pointed out, the "new modes of teaching" are rarely tested properly before they are foisted on academics. It's hard to see how one can improve on sitting down with a student and guiding them. step by step, through a derivation that they find difficult. You can't do that on a computer. Perhaps we should listen to what students think.
"It's hard to see how one can improve on sitting down with a student and guiding them. step by step, through a derivation that they find difficult. You can't do that on a computer. " You can't do that in a lecture either, though. And perhaps if academic staff didn't have to give lectures (which does seem to me an outdated and inefficient way of delivering information) they would have more time to spend actually sitting down with students one-to-one or in small tutorial groups. To me this would be the ideal situation - a hybrid of new and traditional forms of learning, which make the best and most efficient use of the lecturer's expertise.
Guidance is the key. Yes, use online resources, but back this up with face-to-face contact (call them tutorials or problem classes or whatever). Mathematics delivery without these fails.
As a librarian, I can confirm that many students have shown to be emotionally attached to the real book (printed resource) for achievement of success. They cannot but visit the library daily to browse, read and even at times borrow some books when leaving. The fact remains that the interactivity that the online sources whether as ebook or other electronic resources will present cannot edge out the direct contact of the reader of a printed book and of having a feel of the texture and typefaces of the books. Effective learning does occur mostly when there is triadic relationship and physical presence between the teacher, book and learner. With the foregoing, one can see reason with the students on the usefulness of traditional learning and the rationale for it to be with us for ever.

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