The future of tertiary education – a teacher’s perspective

I wanted to comment on Nicholas Gruen’s recent post titled the future of tertiary education, but I didn’t have time and there was too much I wanted to say.  Hence this post.

I agree with most of Nicholas’s points (some with qualifications) but there’s much more that needs saying. Let’s start with Nicholas’s observation about lectures:

Teaching methods are also changing at a surprisingly slow rate.  It seems so obvious that lectures should be both taped and lavished with some serious resources so that, for instance there might be a wealth of really good lectures that people can pull down at any university, with the university’s value add being in how they engage students with each other and with tutors.

We need to look critically at the whole idea of “lectures” and re-imagine their place in teaching and learning.  Education pioneer John Dewey provided a succinct condemnation of the traditional formal lecture-based approach early last century, describing it as ‘transmission by a kind of scholastic pipeline into the minds of pupils whose business is to absorb what is transmitted’.  Students generally absorb very little of the traditional 2 hour passive “chalk and talk” lecture, its persistence has more to do with the ego of the lecturer than its teaching effectiveness (not to mention commenter Conrad’s point about drastic resourcing constraints on producing more effective learning resources using Web 2.0 and other tools).  The traditional lecture method is condemned in more contemporary pedagogy as the “sage on the stage” approach.  It fits poorly with modern “constructivist” concepts of how humans learn.  On second thoughts, constructivism isn’t really modern at all.  Confucius explained it succinctly 1500 2500 years ago: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

It has also been well known since the time of Dewey  that human learning is socially constructed, although until relatively recently most Australian universities were characterised predominantly by a teacher-centred and lecture-based ‘transmission’ approach.  Indeed that’s still true to a large extent. Even in my specialist area of online learning, Levy observes that e-learning ‘is marked by a juxtaposition of new technology and old pedagogy’.

Dewey stressed that ‘the educational process has two sides – one psychological and one sociological; and that neither can be subordinated to the other or neglected without evil results following.’

This conception of learning as socially constructed rather than transmitted by the teacher to relatively passive, receptive students has especially wide implications for distance, flexible and blended approaches to teaching and learning.  However, it is also applicable to on-campus learning, though teachers at universities without external programs have seemingly felt less impetus to innovate or interrogate their own teaching practices and assumptions. ((despite, or perhaps because of, increasingly bureaucratic and coercive quality control mechanisms like AUQA, TEQSA, prescribed graduate attributes and the like ~KP))

A constructivist approach implies that face-to-face teaching time will mostly be devoted to interactive learning where students are challenged and guided by the teacher rather than having a ponderous didactic exposition inflicted on them.  Students undertake interactive exercises under the teacher’s guidance, including workshopping problem and other scenarios, debates, moots, class presentations and performing role plays or experiments.  Students are encouraged or even coerced to study together and prepare for class in small groups (whether in a “meatspace” learning environment or in breakout rooms in a voice/video-enabled virtual classroom). In first year those groups may be mentored by more senior students, which not only enhances constructivist learning but helps overcome constraints of resources, class size and available teacher time.

In this world of constructivist learning the critical e-tools include blogs, wikis, online discussion boards, email, instant messaging and virtual classrooms.  They facilitate student interaction and collaborative learning and permit a reasonable level of flexible ongoing guidance by the teacher even with quite large classes and within existing time and resource constraints found in Australian universities.

All this isn’t to deny an important role for something at least vaguely resembling a “lecture” presentation.  The teacher’s obligation to ensure that course material is presented to students in an accessible and attractive manner will commonly involve a ‘lecture’ presentation of one sort or another. ‘Resource-based’ approaches  to online learning provide a useful way of re- conceptualising the preferred approach to presenting ‘lecture’ content in distance, flexible and blended learning environments:

Resource-based learning is a philosophy of education and a methodology for teaching and learning. It involves the achievement of both subject and information literacy objectives through exposure to and practise with diverse resources. Students become active learners as they use a wide range of materials to investigate subject material prescribed within their classroom curriculum. Teachers and librarians become motivators and facilitators in the learning process and provide the initial subject impetus which drives students to seek information and become creative problem-solvers. The end result is that a “learning culture” is fostered as a climate of active and productive learning is encouraged.

Adoption of a resource-based approach to online learning involves creating pre-recorded presentations in a variety of formats to suit differing student needs, including MP3 audio-only as well as multimedia formats which will include embedded audio and video content ((probably from a number of leading experts in the field ~KP)), synchronised Powerpoint presentations, embedded images, animations and links to Internet resources.

Usually these “lecture” presentations will be significantly shorter than the traditional two hour ‘sage on the stage’ lecture, and will be segmented or ‘time-stamped’ to allow students easy, immediate access to particular sub-topics for note-taking and revision purposes.

A resource-based approach frees the teacher from the burden of delivering content while allowing a greater focus on facilitating student learning; allows students to control the place, pace and time of their own learning as well as permitting far greater choice in what resource material to use and how to engage with it.

However, at least as I see it, the logical organisations to produce “lecture” presentations are not individual universities at all but rather the large academic publishers.  With the media “convergence” that the Internet has ushered in, there really isn’t any necessary or clear-cut distinction between textbooks, lectures and any other didactic teaching resource.  Academic publishers should be migrating their textbooks online at a much greater rate, incorporating the sort of multi-layered and multimedia content outlined above, and also embedding progressive self-assessment quizzes and other formative assessment resources to allow students to learn basic concepts at their own pace and in their own way.  Classroom time can then be devoted to developing higher order cognitive skills of critique, analysis and synthesis, aspects which require active engagement with the teacher and other students.  The failure of academic publishers to move in that direction is a major failure of imaginative insight and truly a “market failure”.  As I observed earlier in this post, some teachers cling to the “chalk and talk” lecture for reasons of ego or habit.  But in most cases it’s a result of lack of time, funding, software and technical support necessary to produce high quality multimedia teaching resources.

None of what I’ve discussed above is terribly revolutionary; it’s just standard constructivist pedagogy.  However, looking around my own university and others that I’ve visited in recent months, I can only agree with Nicholas’s observation that “teaching methods are … changing at a surprisingly slow rate”.  That needs to change, especially given that both major political parties aim at significantly expanding the proportion of Australians undertaking higher education. For that to occur, adoption of constructivist  flexible approaches to teaching and learning is essential.  An increasing proportion of students will be mature age.  For these students the university experience unavoidably requires fitting studies around the demands of work and family and that requires the sort of flexible approaches I’ve been discussing.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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27 Responses to The future of tertiary education – a teacher’s perspective

  1. Guy says:

    Good points.
    A few minor corrections to some claims in the article that strengthen (to my mind) the point.

    Confucius (Latinized name of person known in Chinese: ??; pinyin: K?ng Z?; Wade–Giles: K’ung-tzu, or Chinese: ???; pinyin: K?ng F?z?; Wade–Giles: K’ung-fu-tzu)) lived during 551–479BC or approximately 2,526 years ago. F?z? means teacher. To quote the Wikipedia entry

    “He puts the greatest emphasis on the importance of study, … he wanted his disciples to think deeply for themselves and relentlessly study the outside world,…”

    Socrates lived during 469–399BC or approximately 2,445 years ago. To quote the Wikipedia entry

    “The Socratic method (also known as method of elenchus, Socratic irony, or Socratic debate), named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.”

    These dates predate any modern or old school or university.

    Nothing about lectures here of either the one hour (45-50 minutes) that I experienced or the two hours variety noted in the article.

  2. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks Ken,

    I agree with all that, though I’m a tad wary of ‘isms’ and despite my sympathy for the constructivist understanding of what does and should go on in education, I’m still comfortable being a little more eclectic.

    I agree that the publishers are the obvious one’s to be innovating around media, but then the private sector is usually a local not a global innovator, and that’s even more the case when it is servicing a big, highly government and regulation dominated industry which is, as a consequence very slow to take up innovations that move anywhere further than the tiniest increment.

    That’s why I think that the step changes might come out of educational institutions and that, should they do so, that would give those institutions an opportunity to become substantial publishers of resources.

    One final point – perhaps slightly in support of my preference for eclecticism, illustrating a ‘go for the $100 bills on the pavement’ approach rather than one driven by a ‘theory of education’ is that my experience with ‘group work’ at present is via my kids at school. Group work can be very rewarding but it’s also highly fraught when it gets tangled up with assessment, in which case it can easily become dominated by strategic behaviour. At a time when teachers are vastly more aware than they were when I was a kid of things like bullying, they’re still a dead loss on this.

    Any suggestions?

  3. conrad says:

    “However, at least as I see it, the logical organisations to produce “lecture” presentations are not individual universities at all but rather the large academic publishers.”
    Interestingly enough, I can get these for one of the subjects I teach, but what I have seen is uniformly horrible, so I don’t use them. They also give you lectures that are all in an essentially identical style (i.e., powerpoint dot points), which isn’t great either if you think that learning to deal with information presented in different ways and by different people is important. Other problems include the lack of interactive material for big classes, and none have attempted to add humour to the lectures. These latter two are of course good ways of keeping people’s attention.
    “A constructivist approach implies that face-to-face teaching time will mostly be devoted to interactive learning where students are challenged and guided by the teacher rather than having a ponderous didactic exposition inflicted on them”
    The obvious reason this won’t happen is because class sizes are too big to make it work well. The other less obvious reason is that many students seem to prefer tasks specified like a dot-to-dot puzzles, and there isn’t much point in using this type of learning if that is what they want.

  4. Ken Parish says:


    I wasn’t meaning to suggest a purist approach to applying constructivist theory to tertiary teaching. My own approach is certainly eclectic/hybrid. However I think the constructivist approach has a lot to teach us about effective teaching, and in particular provides a useful lens through which to examine how best to present “lecture” material in the contemporary higher education sector.

    I agree that it is both likely and desirable that some universities may over time take up the market opportunities that I perceive and become substantial academic publishers given that the existing publishers aren’t meeting needs.

    Finally, I agree that group work can become problematic to the extent that it is assessable. Teamwork is among the graduate attributes that the Commonwealth implicitly expects universities to teach and assess. I would prefer simply to facilitate and encourage rather than assess it for the reasons you mention. There are techniques for reasonably reliably assessing group work and discouraging strategic behaviour e.g. free-riding (including use of wikis for assessable group work, and use of peer mentors to monitor group functioning) but none of them are free from difficulty.

  5. Ken Parish says:


    I’ve implemented a teaching approach along the lines I’m outlining here for a class of around 200, and it was manageable and worked reasonably well. Now I know many universities have classes quite a lot larger than that especially in first year undergraduate courses. However I suspect you could make such a system work with careful use of study group learning and some peer mentoring. Moreover typically larger classes have more than one academic staff member teaching into them, as well as sessional/casual teachers. There’s no reason why the work of co-ordinating the collaborative endeavour etc can’t be shared between them.

    The real reason it tends not to happen is that such an approach DOES involve more work and effort for the academic than the traditional lecture + tutorial + assignment + final exam model, and that extra work is at the expense of research and publication which are far more rewarded in our tertiary institutions. Until genuine promotional incentives for excellent teaching actually exist (as opposed to being paid lip service) nothing much is likely to change. To put it bluntly, I think this issue is far more important for quality teaching and learning in higher education than what sorts of bells and whistles are attached to lecture presentations or who makes them.

  6. Julia says:

    An interesting paper advocating a “lectorial” approach is this one. Deslauriers, Louis, Ellen Schelew, and Carl Wieman. 2011. “Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class.” Science 332 (6031) (May 13): 862 -864. doi:10.1126/science.1201783. (And BTW “Lectorial” is a useful search term if you are looking for ‘how to deal with large classes’ info)

    However I think that the mix of on-line technologies with university teaching is going to at some point result in a complete redefinition of the “borders” of tertiary education. For one prognostication on the influence of the mix, “The Horizon report” is pretty interesting. There is also a bunch of stuff on the future of education on “The Observatory on Borderless Education” which addresses physically as well as virtually “borderless” universities.

    But I’m left thinking that what we might end up with online, is much more sophisticated than ‘The Khan Academy’, charming though that is. I suspect that most universities will end up as simply credentialling institutions (if that) while teaching goes on-line to organisations which can deliver “..great teachers from universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale”, and which eventually take out a monopoly on all but very regional or local interests in education. (However given the direction of ERA, regional and local interests are on the academic slide anyway.)

  7. conrad says:

    I thought that was a great little paper in Science too — the guy also has a wonderful website where you can look at many classic physics experiements. Have a look here . The other thing it highlights is that, as I’ve complained before, things like curriculum are very imporant and far easier to control than things like teacher quality. But politically no-one cares because the average person doesn’t know enough to complain about, for example, how mathematics should be taught and what should be taught across 13 years (quite probably including most of the people at ACER who gave us the shitty NAPLAN, and the people in the education department who also don’t understand the concept of validity).

    “But I’m left thinking that what we might end up with online, is much more sophisticated than ‘The Khan Academy’, charming though that is”

    I work at place that does a fair bit of online stuff, and I think it’s very subject dependent. Some things work great online (if they’re run by people that care), but there are somethings that don’t. Even with video links rather than just online material (La Trobe does a fair bit of this), there are many problemns.

  8. jenny says:

    The active/interactive talking and doing that happens in conversations. It is fraught with risk as the act of saying or doing exposes the student, it tests us and it is the skill of the teacher/tutor to create an envrionment where the test, the risk is the norm. When it is the norm it is safe and the bar goes higher for the group. Dynamic. Again, the theory is ages old – early this century, Vygotsky, and before that too, Socrates.

    The teacher who takes up all the space must have to do with crowd control and maybe ego too … and then we all got lost there.

  9. jenny says:

    Lecture presentations like those on Adobe presenter work well. You can pop in and out of them, use the time markers and headings for referencing, listen ad infinitum on ipod and muse as you ride along. Concentrate on the words in your ears and those on the screen sitting at your computer. Flexible learning.

  10. Ken and Nicholas:

    This discussion of technology as a saviour of university learning and teaching is a little myopic. Firstly, workload. How are academics expected to re-design courses when many barely have the time to teach and do research? Academics are being turned into bureaucrats – all of this as university bureaucracies continue to grow at a greater pace than faculty. What you may see as “sage on the stage” is often just experienced and well-versed academics lecturing off the cuff because they are trying to preserve time for research. We can raise questions about this practice, but to place the burden on academics is to perceive the issue too narrowly. Secondly, it is naive to assume that innovative teaching and learning could normatively drive technological adoption and reform at universities. Only cost-saving technologies see the light of day. Thirdly, many IT departments (and this is second- to eigtht-hand information) across many universities are struggling to cope with existing operational demands. Unless the market offers something innovative, there’s not much chance anything will come from in-house resources.

    Ken, a constructivist approach does not inherently mean the adoption of technology. You are correct to say it requires flexibility – from both students and teachers. But flexibility implies diversity and, most importantly, it has to be about more than content delivery. Also, this needs to be institutionalised. But technology, ironically, is being used to completely rationalise curriculum design to the point where teachers (and, in the end, students) are being placed in straight-jackets. The rationalisation I speak of is often referred to in the literature on assessments and course design as “alignment” and more universities are restricting content delivery and course design to these very narrow parameters alone.

    My point: pay closer attention to the contradictory demands being placed on academics and you will get a better sense of how the academic institution is being overwhelmed by bureaucracy at the cost of research and teaching. Most academics are unable to consider anything innovative due to the burdens of the bureaucracy or precarious working conditions. Start there, maybe.

  11. Also, for a frank account of the contradictory demands being placed on academics, see: Lattas, J (2009) ‘Dear Learner: Shame and the Dialectics of Enquiry’ International Journal of the Humanities

  12. Julia says:

    “I work at place that does a fair bit of online stuff, and I think it’s very subject dependent. Some things work great online (if they’re run by people that care), but there are somethings that don’t. Even with video links rather than just online material (La Trobe does a fair bit of this), there are many problems.”
    And I guess I’m just not too sure that “what works”, particularly tailored stuff, is what we’ll eventually end up with. I don’t know anyone who put their hand up for pay-per-view journal articles. (Remember when you could do that in libraries for free?) And I’m certain no-one I know wants to pay-to-be- published, but that’s what’s happening out there. Sage Open is a case in point. Its not until you click on the third tab across and scroll to the bottom of the page that you find the information that this is pay-to-publish. Perfect example of ‘openwashing’ IMHO.

    I think if anyone can work out the winning business model then teaching will go the same way regardless of what works. That “great courses” website is mopping up lifelong learning people who might otherwise do paid courses locally. The companies dominating the education business are looking for ways to become the world wide walled city. (Just look at how many edu-businesses Blackboard has bought.) And they’ll do it like Apple does, by telling us we’ll get a more fabulous experience.

  13. Julia says:

    And Jenny @9 is right. Once you detach delivery from place you can listen to or watch it anywhere, and where it came from ceases to matter.

  14. Nicholas Gruen says:


    1) Technology is not a saviour. Never said so, never thought it. Ken doesn’t either.

    2) I’m not in academia for precisely the reasons you mention.

    3) There are plenty of things you can do to advance this agenda if you think it worthy.

    4) So I wouldn’t start by fixing academia – that’s a taller order than starting to get going on some commonsensical changes – which can be quite incremental or revolutionary depending on how far you want to or can take them.

    So while we could have a thread on what a mess tertiary education is in for other reasons – which it is and you’re welcome to send us as a draft post – this one is on the topic that I introduced and Ken advanced.

  15. Nicholas:

    Agreed, I exaggerated/misinterpreted your positions. If I could rephrase: I question your assumptions about the interaction b/w people and technology because I think they are shaky. i.e. as much as you both have recognised their presence, I don’t believe either of you have adequately addressed the “institutional constraints”. Nicholas, you say you have avoided unis because of their bureaucratic inertia and I’m assuming Ken has his own views of the problems since it is my understanding he works at one.

    Now, I would disagree that I was off-topic. You are wrong to suggest that I was implying we need to fix unis first. I was asking you (and Ken) to consider additional factors. Having said this, I can certainly understand why you interpreted me that way, so let me clarify my own position briefly. Yes, tech can help universities scale, but this requires something a little more sophisticated than the thinly veiled Fordist views of tertiary education I have encountered from executives and some in the teaching and learning field. Yes, tech can qualitatively change the teaching and learning experience for the better by making it richer whilst also simplifying things. But, it doesn’t always do this. So, as you have done from your own perspectives, we need to ask the question: why have unis failed (sometimes miserably) to engender innovation through technology?

    Now, to re-iterate my point more clearly and on-topic: there are institutional constraints (and I mean this in the broadest sense to include the culture, politics, material and symbolic resources of an organisation) to what you are examining (as you have partly recognised) and that cut across the suggestions you are making. My experience as a software engineer verifies this and my training as a sociologist has helped me to find ways of refining it. It might seem irrational for unmet needs to continue going unmet, but it makes a lot of sense when you look more closely at the context. In the end, I agree with the sentiments carried in both of your pieces, just not with the details.

    Now, I am an idealist that likes to ponder questions like ‘how do we fix academia?’, but I’m not foolish enough to take you up on your suggestion that I write a piece on it!

    Sorry, but I wrote the above offline whilst on a plane and I’d just like to point out that many comments since are pointing towards the exact sort of things I am suggesting desperately need examination in order to account for the woeful uptake of technologies at universities.

  16. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks Bernard, and apologies for my stridency.

    I think there’s merit in proposing things in a naive way, because it can at least focus people on fixing problems/taking up opportunities. It isn’t because all the obstacles you mention are not important.

    I encounter your kind of ‘structural’ objections to lots of political/economic suggestions I make. People won’t vote for it, officials will be obstructive etc. Sometimes these are valid – but often they’re a kind of pastime of ‘let’s guess why this hasn’t been done before?’ which seems harmless enough but often produces an unthinking passive kind of presumption thatt there must be a good reason why this hasn’t been done before and so a predisposition to find fault with new ideas itself when they’re just being proposed for discussion on their merits. It cuts of discussion and elaboration.

    I’m not saying you’re doing that. I think you have a huge problem on your mind – the disappearance of universities down the managerialist plug-hole. I couldn’t be more sympathetic. And I can also see why you think that the kinds of technology solutions that I’ve focused on (and Ken too, but I’m not speaking for him) seem to come from some-place ‘Fordist’. I really really hate Fordism, managerialism and so on as regular readers to this blog will probably have noticed.

    I’m actually looking for alternatives to that. Ken finds them in ‘constructivism’ if you like, whereas I’ve spoken of my own preference for ‘eclecticism’ above. But one of the reasons for my mentioning technology is not to appeal to some managerially imposed technological solution, but rather to appeal to the culture of hacking – or improvising. The tools are now there to enable pretty much anyone to start making the kinds of changes I’m calling for. They just need to make a few changes, see what works and improvise their way to something better. Management won’t help them – they’ll be round with their usual forms to fill in, but nor (at least in many places) will they prevent lecturers using the kinds of tools I’m talking about. In fact, if they can use them they may be rather chuffed (so long as the right forms are filled out you understand – whatever you do keep those forms coming).

    But progress in adopting the new opportunities is painfully slow.

    I’m not saying my way is the only way, but I like the idea of incremental piecemeal changes, because in such a complex and ‘double blind‘ environment, trying things out is in some ways the only way we have of not making quite large mistakes.

  17. Ken Parish says:

    It appears Nicholas and Bernard have largely resolved the miscommunication that led to Bernard’s first comment. However it may be worth my making a couple of observations.

    First, my primary post is pretty much the antithesis of “technology as a saviour of university learning and teaching”. Read especially the paragraph beginning “A constructivist approach implies that face-to-face teaching time …”. What I’m saying is that it’s the real time teaching interactions that are most important to T and L; how you “scaffold” students and encourage discussion and reflection; recognising the “teaching moments” and how you respond to them and bridge the “zone of proximal development”; how you foster constructive collaborative relationships between students and then a curious independent learning/researching orientation. And so on.

    Technologies are relevant to this only because they impose constraints but may also provide opportunities. They are platforms for learning, they don’t take its place. However both the constraints and opportunities are especially pressing when (as I do) you run higher ed programs where 80% of your total student body are external and studying wholly online by distance learning. Few if any other universities need to have that degree of focus on overcoming the constraints and exploiting the opportunities of online technologies and indeed IT generally.

    But I also think our insights and solutions have relevance for the broader tertiary sector. For example, the way I now do “lectures” is quite a good example. I’ve been developing it for about 3 years now. Instead of the old 2 hour lecture I used to deliver live each week (repeated every semester) I have condensed it into a pre-recorded Adobe Presenter presentation of less than an hour (but without loss of any significant detail or focus – you’d be surprised how much excess verbiage/time there is in the average 2 hour lecture), “synced” with Powerpoint slides, associated notes and in some cases embedded video clips. Students love it (e.g. Jenny at #9 above). Apart from anything else they can listen and re-listen to the lecture whenever they want, and “surf” direct to the bits they want to revise by clicking on the time stamps which display the title of each Powerpoint slide.

    For me as the teacher, instead of having to do at least 2 hours preparation for that lecture and then spend 2 hours delivering it, I can now spend around an hour reviewing the topic and editing any slides and commentary sections that need updating to take account of recent case law or legislative change. Sometimes it takes a little longer where changes have been very significant. For example it took me more than 2 hours to update my study guide and lecture presentation on FOI last week to incorporate the very significant changes introduced by the Labor government last year following John Faulkner’s reform initiative. Nevertheless, on average I save 2-3 hours each week for every subject I teach once they have been converted to this format, and the quality of the “lecture” for students is significantly better than before. Moreover, Adobe Presenter isn’t difficult to learn to drive (nor are Captivate or Camtasia which are fairly similar in some ways). I then use an hour of the time I’ve saved to run a live seminar for all students, which is much more conversational and involves discussing public law-related current events and focusing on problems and issues raised by the students about the topic we studied last week, elicited through discussion board posts and a one minute quiz/survey at the end of each tutorial (list the 2 key points you learned during this tute and the one issue you still don’t understand fully or want more explanation about).

    This is actually a micro-level practical way that individual lecturers can choose to improvise to reduce the pressures of seriously inadequate resourcing and unachievable demands for increased research output and enhanced teaching, all imposed through increasingly bureaucratic and coercive managerialist or “Fordist” processes. It took us a while to get university management to buy Adobe Presenter and Camtasia (though nowhere near as long as it took Conrad to get his university to buy Captivate) and then they couldn’t be installed on our computers for mysterious reasons supposedly connected with IT security. And it’s still problematic because of arbitrary limits imposed on the total file size in any single Blackboard subject site (250MB when every one of 12 lecture presentations is around 60 MB for the Adobe Presenter and audio MP3 versions combined). At the moment we’re getting around that in an ad hoc way by getting the School IT support officer to manually load our presentations on another server and then just linking the URL in the Blackboard site. It isn’t sustainable because it’s too labour intensive, but we’re working on ways to solve it (again with a software “hack” that will allow individual lecturers without IT skills to upload their lecture presentations to the separate server with a single mouse click.

  18. Nicholas Gruen says:

    For the record – for when I come back to this – Matt Cowgil sent me this great link.

  19. Nicholas Gruen says:

    And I’ve just read Ken’s comment 17 – he should be getting some university learning innovator award, but does it anyway.

  20. jenny says:

    The tools are secondary, it is the how people learn that is first.
    If you believe that learning is an individual project embedded in a social construction then it makes sense to give everyone a chance to have a go. Classes designed along these lines are arguably socially satisfying and students are likely to ramp up individual efforts in order to be able to participate in the rough and tumble of conversation in the tutorials and online or live classrooms.
    The tools that make learning like this practical and accessible are those being developed online, although it is still clunky technology and when it isn’t working you are on your own – till next time. It is an entire and exciting virtual world replete with irritations and satisfactions.

  21. conrad says:

    Speaking of awards, too bad for Ken the ALTC got closed down, and now the main place you could get an award and actually have it help you get promoted doesn’t exist. That’s how much the government cares about quality teaching.

  22. Patrick says:

    For various reasons I just read this post. I think that Ken also deserves a prize, but more importantly, that he should be hired by Melbourne Uni to improve its undergrad law!

  23. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I just landed here 6 years on, and “things are changing at a surprisingly slow rate”. Or am I wrong?

    • Ken Parish says:

      I suspect things are actually changing quite quickly but surreptitiously at the hands of university senior administrations bent on utilising technology in a way that saves lots of money under the guise of improving student learning, although in trutth it will achieve almost exactly the opposite. As a colleague wrote to me only the other day:

      Commercial orgs are coming into unis: unis give content, corp packages it in slick modules per set plan e.g. Vid + quiz + discussion board etc. Co does focus groups, tells Uni to leave out stuff students don’t like. Promises to market to attract more students. Takes maybe 50% cut of fees. …

      You give the company your materials and they process it into a standard formula (5 minute video, discussion board, quiz, reading, video…). The company tests the resources in focus groups, and tells the uni to change things that the focus group does not like. The company also guarantees enrolments – it will market your degree to achieve enrolment targets. It takes a cut of the fees. Suspected 50%. …

      X uni law school has already implemented same thing with key path: Feedback included that one lecturer looked scruffy. So there is a dress code for staff being video-ed… There is no negotiation with the organisation – you are required to do exactly what they tell you to do. They now have a ‘subject facilitator’ – a person available 24/7 to answer student queries. Staff believe that this is a way to reduce expenditure on staff – this person is paid less than standard sessional rates because the duties are different. But they are expected to be available on tap.

      Both X uni and Y uni are unclear who owns the IP. The agreement with the company is commercial in confidence, and the payment to the corporation is not disclosed. …

      Z uni is sending all its online instruction (which is actually all of it – my kids have almost no face to face any more at Z uni) to a central (internal) unit that will run online digital design, management and (likely) coordination.

      This is all I really know about what appears to be a trend. I do think however, that we are witnessing the end of higher ed as we know it.

      Note the apparent drive to abolish/severely reduce live/synchronous learning (whether face-to-face or online) in favour of almost complete reliance on prepackaged glossy content produced by large-scale commercial providers. Note also the suggestion that these providers “guarantee” meeting enrolment targets. You would think it might occur to uni administrations that this is self-evidently a Ponzi scheme. Although total national higher ed enrolments aren’t quite a zero sum game it is nevertheless true that the promised targets can only be met until these mega-content packagers have made the same promises to a high enough proportion of universities that they can only keep meeting them by robbing Peter to pay Paul (or orchestrating an ultimately self-defeating race to the bottom on standards, where students choose the university which offers them the easiest path to a degree) .

      A good faith commitment to teaching and learning standards would aim at optimising the balance between live/synchronous learning and asynchronous methodologies, because both have their place. Unfortunately, in the short term large commercial providers can make big bucks by convincing gullible, cash-strapped university administrations that the way to instant tertiary education nirvana is to pay the mega providers big bucks to produce glossy packages of content delivered by asynchronous means (because the packages can be reproduced at almost zero cost once created). By contrast they can’t make big bucks with genuinely live, interactive teaching and learning methods because they are inherently labour-intensive.

      • Nicholas Gruen says:


        Thanks for that Ken.

        Without knowing any of it before reading it, it all rings true. I can imagine that’s exactly how things would be done.


      • Paul Frijters says:

        and who owns those outside corporations that get given the surplus of the public institution (the uni)? I suspect a ‘game of mates’ classic!

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