The internet and teaching.

In the Song “All the wrong reasons” from the album  “Into the great wide open”, Tom Petty (1999) uses the lyric, “she grew up fast in the age of television”. This is a line that has always resonated with me. TV was big during my childhood. With only three channels the conversations in the school playground was always about what we’d seen on Top of The Pops, or the latest Morecombe and Wise show.  But that was then.  Now we seem to have emerged from the age of television. The idea of there being a fixed schedule of programmes and having to get home in time to see your favourite show is a thing of the past. First video recorders added some flexibility to viewing habits. Now we have catch-up TV and on-demand TV so that, for the most part, TV schedules are becoming a bit obsolete.  My eldest son told me a while ago that you can recognise ‘old people’ because they are the ones who look to see what’s on television by using a magazine. Very last century!

Now rather than being glued to the telly like my generation, kids are glued to the internet. With almost infinite choice and unparalleled flexibility, viewers can watch what they want, when they want. And of course it is not BBC and ITV that dominate, but You Tube Channels to which they subscribe and receive alerts. It is a different age.  The age of the internet.

The internet is of course not just a TV replacement. It is changing all sorts of habits.  Internet banking means you don’t have to rush to the high street before your local branch closes, whilst internet retailing means that you can do all your Christmas shopping without leaving home. The internet is also now in the classroom as well, and if you hadn’t realised this then you probably need to take stock of what is going on. I am not talking about online courses and MOOCS here, but regular, everyday teaching in the ‘privacy’ of your own classroom.

Some time ago I was undertaking a review of the curriculum for an academic university department. One of the questions that the department wanted me to ask a series of student focus groups was, “should the department record lectures and put them online for students?”. The response from the students was mild amusement, and the comment, “Don’t they realise that our lectures are already online?”. The students were recording their lectures and putting them on You Tube within hours of them being delivered. This was do-it-yourself lecture-capture.

Lecture-capture is now becoming mainstream, with universities investing in the technology to audio or video record lectures to deposit on VLEs. It is also something that many students will see as ‘normal’, so that they can review lectures (or sections from them) at a time that suits them. In other words, ‘on-demand lectures’. In this sense, the lecture schedule may be going the same way as the TV listings, with students choosing to view lectures in a sequence that they decide works best for them. As such, this makes cross referencing of lectures even more important than it ever was with students escaping from the linear, pre-ordained sequence that was intended.

So how does this change things? Well, you need to be aware that the comments that you make in your lectures may be played over and over again. Any throw-away comments or ill-judged witty asides are no longer thrown away. This is not to say that lecturers shouldn’t be able to be themselves in their teaching sessions, but to recognise that the private lecture is now much more of a public forum.

Any culturally-insensitive or gender-insensitive comments that might have been perceived as ‘witty banter’ in the 1970s may not be well received now  by a more sophisticated and increasingly internationalised and highly networked student body.  But also, you need to think how you are flagging up the key points within your lectures. When students opt to review a lecture they attended several weeks earlier (or a lecture they missed for some reason) they will want to get to the heart of the subject. So it is more important than ever to ensure that the structure of the lecture is clear and explicit to students.

So, returning briefly to the words of Tom Petty, you really don’t want to be an internet hit for ‘All the Wong Reasons’.


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