The following post was written by Alison Blaxter, a BILT Associate and Clinical Teaching Fellow in the Vet School.
It’s August and bright sunshine but time for reviewing my teaching year. I was remembering the ‘snow days’ we have had over the last few years. The vet school in the heart of the Mendip Hills briefly closed its doors for business and students because of snow at the end of January. Those of us providing animal care stayed to deal with emergencies but I was also due to lecture that day and the undergraduate students missed my well-crafted lecture on reproduction in cats. Instead I recorded the lecture on mediasite at my desk and it was up on Blackboard the next day. In the case-based session at the end of the cat and dog reproduction course the students didn’t express any significant difficulty with the material, nor were there a disproportionate number of questions from the content of that lecture in comparison to the others in the series.
This and a fascinating keynote speech on the formation of memory at the VetEd, the veterinary education community’s annual symposium (https://vetedsymposium.org/) by David Shanks at UCL started me thinking about the benefits of lecturing. Lectures are a way in which we can decide as instructors what knowledge our students need and deliver it in a relatively quick and easily produced way to classes of infinite size. We also know that students who have a learning style where listening is key to their development of memory and understanding this form of knowledge transfer may be highly appropriate.
However, we also know that active learning where the learner is engaged in activity associated with the material is a better model to aspire to. There is evidence that such an approach improves, among other attributes, critical thinking, decision making and creativity (Freeman et al. (2014). My understanding from David Shanks keynote address is that memory formation and the ability to apply information increases where testing is an inherent part of the learning process, Fascinatingly, testing before, during and after novel information transfer improves memory formation. (Yang C., Potts R., and Shanks D.R. (2018))
We now routinely use audience response systems such as ‘Turning Point’ and ‘Mentimeter’ to deliver in-lecture quizzes, we use case-based-learning in medicine and veterinary medicine to apply knowledge immediately to specific professional contexts, we promote ‘flipped classroom’ teaching with students preparing in advance for whole cohort interactive teaching and team based learning where peer interaction is pivotal to the learning process or other forms of peer assisted learning are celebrated. Our new accelerated graduate entry programme for the vet course (AGEP) has adopted case-based learning with an emphasis on active participation in a self-directed environment as its core. Do traditional lectures still have a role?
There is also the issue that I don’t always enjoy lecturing. The majority of my teaching is in the work-place where I am fortunate to mentor and teach veterinary students at the end of their undergraduate career on a one to one basis. Dealing with illness and health in real patients, with all the uncertainty this entails is an exciting and stimulating teaching environment. When I lecture the sound of my own voice for a long period of time can feel tedious and I get bored without the great stimulus I get from face to face teaching, so I plan active participation throughout the 50 minutes and my ‘lectures’ can be noisy and chaotic.
So my vision of the future involves lectures being pre-recorded, perhaps divided into smaller chunks of material and delivered in the context of a whole variety of resources to a student – videos, audio, text, quizzes and tasks. Once established our face-to-face time becomes available to guide and mentor students by cultivating their curiosity, facilitating creative application of knowledge and engaging them in a more direct and personal way. Could lectures as we understand be obsolete?
Freeman et al. (2014), Active learning increases student performance in science engineering and mathematics PNAS 111 (2) 8410–8415
Yang C., Potts R., and Shanks D.R. (2018) Enhancing learning and retrieval of new information; a review of the forward testing effect. Science of Learning 3(1).