Why should a teacher force chattering students who are on facebook during lectures to listen? Two weeks ago, professor Jan Derksen from Nijmegen argued in favor of online lectures. This week EUR-students and –teachers give their opinion on the future of traditional lectures.
Etienne Augé, IBCoM lecturer, does not think a virtual classroom is a solution. But what about free fruits during class?
A few years ago, I tried an experiment in the Czech Republic. I was teaching in a university in Prague every week but had to commute from Bratislava where I was living at the time. The trip was pretty tiring, 4 hours from the Slovak capital to the Czech Beauty, so I suggested to the administration that we could create a virtual classroom. That way, students and I could interact without having to be in one of these dull classrooms that seem to be the norm worldwide. The idea was to use modern technology to connect regardless of where we were in reality, and I thought that students would adopt the idea given the amount of time they spend online. Truth is, they hated it and we had to cancel the class after a few weeks.
The reason was simple: although students do not like to be in a classroom, they still need the human touch to learn. The idea of having courses on the internet so that students could check them anytime and learn at their own pace sounds seductive. Some people tend to have a faith in technology, hoping that it will save the human race and make it better, faster and smarter. Yet, a massive amount of knowledge is on the Internet, and students still do not get their PhD by the time they are 18. Internet does not make its users smarter, or maybe a few who know how to use it. For the rest, it is mainly social networks, porn and videos of cats and dogs. Knowledge was accessible in libraries before the almighty WWW, it does not mean we made the best out of it.
What is interesting is that students all complain on Facebook about how boring courses are but still, they attend them (but facebook during them, you never know what you may be missing IRL). If a student does not want to go to university, (s)he can stay home. Few do, probably because they enjoy the idea of being forced to do something and complain about it. University also helps them to become socialized and meet fellow human beings. Nothing new here: as students, we have all complained about how boring courses were, except for a few that we dearly remember. Yet, after many years, we reflect on these university years and regret them. If given the choice between having to return to university or just study from home, a huge majority would take the “boring” classrooms.
It does not mean nothing can be done to improve our study environment. The way we teach has drastically changed over the years. Many tools can make classrooms more interesting for students and also for us. I think professors are as uncomfortable as students to enter dull classrooms. Making them more human-friendly could be a better step towards better education rather than just cancelling them. The use of PowerPoint has to stop being the norm, better options for interaction exist. In the end, interactivity between all participants is what justifies our presence at university. I also believe the settings of the classrooms is essential. How about colors, ambient lights, even sounds? Anything that will make our stay for long hours in a room more enjoyable and profitable for our minds. One of my favorite universities, Krems in Austria, places free fruits in every classroom. Trust me, it makes a difference for a marginal price for the university.
Online courses will not replace classrooms, but university definitely has to rethink itself after centuries of conservatism. Instead of making higher education dehumanized, it might be time to make it even more human.