Saturday, April 28, 2012

Academics Need Teacher Training

In Lost professors: we won’t need academics in 60 years, Professor Chris Lloyd, University of Melbourne, predicts the number of "genuine" academic positions in Australia will return to 1952 levels. Here are some comments on the article:

Researching and teaching

"... Academics create knowledge through largely unfunded research ..."
Professor George Walker, has been discussing the relationship between teaching and research in Canberra this week.
"... generate curriculum; they deliver lectures; they accredit ... "
Academics have been largely untrained in how to design and deliver education. There are now teacher training programs in place at many Australian universities and these will make a big difference to the quality of education.

Knowledge middle men

"When I started lecturing in 1978, I would take one or two textbooks and write out my own lecture notes. ... "
Yes, there are many disciplines which started out in such an ad-hoc way. But it is time we did things more professionally in tertiary education.
"These days, I design new courses by trawling the web ... "
It is one of the dirty little secrets of education that teachers use the Wikipedia but then penalize their students for doing the same. In some courses I have got students to critique and edit a Wikipedia entry to give them an appreciation of its good and bad points.
"I deliver the course to the students in a big hall. ... "
In 2008 I decided that lectures were not a good way to do education, so stopped giving lectures.
"Surely, 60 years from now, the very best curriculum and audio visual presentations will be collected, digitised and organised ..."
Videos of lectures are not that much more useful than live lectures. There are better ways to do education. Techniques for new teaching styles are explained in tertiary teaching courses run by many universities.
"I am not sure that there is much interaction in most lectures anyway. ..."
"Lecture 2.0" is the general term for more interactive lecture
techniques (my "last lecture" gets a mention).

Could it really happen?

"Electronic interactions through small groups ... "
Small groups work well, face-to-face, or online. But we can't handle an increased volume of students this way, without improved tools and techniques. Routine tasks of helping students with academic writing, for example, can be automated with an artificial intelligence tutor.

What about accreditation?

"Accreditation is another core function of universities which they currently monopolise. ..."
Professional bodies also run courses, certify professional training and accredit university courses. I was commissioned in 2008 to write an online ICT Sustainability course for the Australian Computer Society. This is designed to meet a global skills standard and delivered as part of a globally certified professional program, accredited through national professional bodies. It was later adapted for use at university in Australia and North America.
"A degree is a quality guarantee ... I cannot see the private sector usurping this role. "
There is little distinction drawn between public and private sector tertiary institutions when it comes to quality, they have to meet the same standards.

The major issue is local versus global: if a student is studying
on-line, will their teaching be outsourced to a low cost country?

Brave new world

"Many may argue that it is daft to predict what will happen in 60 years. ... "
We do not have to wait 60 years: changes to education are happening now and will become very apparent in the next five to ten years. Australia is well placed to benefit from this change, as for example, one of the leading Learning Management System products (Moodle) was developed here and there are many deep thinkers on how to do education better.

The current situation reminds me of the Internet in the mid 1990s, when technology was available and worked. But most IT professionals were in a state of denial, saying the Internet was just an academic experiment and not suitable for serious use. Within a few years the Internet came to dominate IT. The hard part was integrating the Internet way of working into traditional corporate culture.

Some academics are now saying that the more systematic approaches to education are threatening their academic freedom and that online learning is untested. But I expect that within a few years these will become the normal and obvious ways to do university education. Hopefully Australian universities will be part of that change, or they will become just satellite campuses for overseas institutions.

My suggestion to my colleagues on how to get to the new world of university education is "Integrating Online Learning into Campus Life".

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