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In an effort to improve student learning and retention across campus, multiple teams at Kansas University are trying to rethink the traditional lecture format.
The lecture is a centuries-old mainstay of higher education. It's what most people think about when they think of college classes. But Ruth Ann Atchley, a KU psychology professor and chairwoman of the psychology department, said it's not always the best way to transmit information. That goes especially to today's young people, who are "living in an environment where they're inundated with knowledge," she said.
Atchley heads a task force created through the provost's office at KU that is evaluating how courses at KU might be redesigned. That might include everything from adding an additional use of technology to a complete "flip" or "shift" of a class. The project is part of a broader effort to increase student retention at KU, said Sara Rosen, KU senior vice provost for academic affairs.
In a flipped class, students read and watch lectures on their own time through a digital medium. Class is then used for work on problems or group projects that apply course material. Andrea Greenhoot, an associate professor of cognitive psychology and co-director of the developmental program at KU, notes that in-class lectures are not entirely done away with. Instructors can offer "mini-lectures" in class on areas they know students are struggling with.
Greenhoot is also part of the provost's task force and head of the C21 Course Redesign Consortium, a university group of nearly 60 faculty, staff and students that is also trying to incorporate new methods of teaching into classrooms.
The group is organized around a program that uses postdoctoral fellows to help faculty redesign their courses. Currently three postdocs are at KU working in the biology, geology and geography departments to introduce new technologies and curriculum to classes.
Greenhoot notes that not all students are wild about the new formats. "A lot of students walk into a large classroom expecting to be anonymous … We've socialized them to expect that," Greenhoot said.
When students are forced to participate in group work, or feel that they're not getting their money's worth of lecture time from the instructor, some push back against the changes. However, Greenhoot thinks student frustration can be mitigated by managing their expectations and communicating the value of the different methods at the start of a class.
Logistics make things complicated as well. Changing classrooms to meet the needs of redesigned classes is not cheap. The provost's task force found that repurposing a classroom to accommodate redesigned courses — which often requires technological plugins, wall-to-wall white boards and moveable furniture — costs about $50,000 per classroom, Atchley said. Greenhoot adds that instructors in flipped classes also need the personnel to help oversee the work being done inside the class.
All this study by the task force will go to providing instructors with options for re-tailoring their courses. The provost's task force is currently preparing to present to deans and other administrators in the coming weeks. For now the classroom changes are entirely up to instructors.
"I think there are some faculty that will be comfortable with it, and some that won't, and that's OK," Rosen said.