College Students Still Prefer Good Lectures Over Tech

As technologically savvy as modern college students are, when it comes to teaching, many still think the quality of instruction is more important than various digital bells and whistles. A recent survey of over 15,000 university students in Quebec found that many still prefer a lecture-based course over one that heavily uses even the most [...]

As technologically savvy as modern college students are, when it comes to teaching, many still think the quality of instruction is more important than various digital bells and whistles. A recent survey of over 15,000 university students in Quebec found that many still prefer a lecture-based course over one that heavily uses even the most up-to-date “information and communication technology.”

The study was run by Dr. Vivek Venkatesh, who is the associate dean of academic programs and development in the school of graduate studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. He said that he was surprised by the strong preference expressed by the students because in his dealings with academic peers he came to believe quite the opposite.

The study was conducted by Dr. Venkatesh in partnership with Magda Fusaro, a professor in the department of management and technology at Université du Québec à Montréal. Together, they conducted a pilot project at UQAM before rolling the survey out in 2011 to a dozen universities across the province, to which 15,000 undergraduate students and more than 2,500 instructors responded (for response rates of 10 percent and 20 percent respectively).

There has been a lot of chatter in the education-related media that with the popularity of online learning and blended learning on the upswing, we could be seeing the decline of the traditional college lecture. Such thoughts might be a tad premature, Fusaro explains. She points out that there seems to be some disconnect between what the professors think the students prefer and what the students actually prefer in terms of how much technology use in the classroom is optimal.

Among the faculty members who replied to the survey, there seemed to have been a consensus that students responded better to a more interactive learning experience that provided for a lot of back and forth between the professor and people enrolled in his or her class. Yet, the results also strongly indicate that students actually enjoy being on the receiving end of a lecture — as long as it exciting and interesting. Having their learning environment augmented by technology that facilitates education seemed to have been strictly secondary in importance.

Still, the use of technology in class is indisputably growing. According to University Affairs’ article on the study, fewer than 50 instructors of more than 2,500 polled said that they never use it in any of their courses. Most made use of the common digital tools like email, presentation and word processing packages, with some experimenting with social networking like Twitter and Facebook, digital publishing, blogs and forum software.

Another interesting tidbit from the survey: students seem underwhelmed by the prospect of online learning. Dr. Venkatesh says this shows that “we need to understand better the benefits and pitfalls of these technologies before jumping on a particular bandwagon,” such as massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Dr. Venkatesh says he hopes the results will have a broad impact, especially in terms of curriculum design and professional development. “I’m looking forward to many, many months of analyzing this data.”

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