There has been a lot of discussion in the last few years about the place of the lecture and if it is outdated for university students who will live and work in a digital economy. Many academics say it is the best means to get across complex subjects while others claim it leads to bored students listening to the old fashioned “sage on the stage”. It is actually a question that has been posed for decades with no real answer.
I’d argue it’s the wrong question. The real question is why we don’t trust our students to explore and grow with our guidance as collaborators rather than instructors in front of them. I recently took over a project management module and my first act was to scrap all the lectures and replace them with meaningful projects that replicated real-life working environments. My students are currently building apps to help their fellow students set up their own business and redesigning our Business School website based on their knowledge of our core audience (people like them).
The outcome has been that my students have never been so engaged and my relationship with them has changed for the better and in unexpected ways. I designed our previous website, but after an hour of them outlining all the different ways in which it was rubbish, I’ve come away with a greater respect for their insight and ability to plan a better solution. I’ve also come to realise I’m a terrible web designer.
The biggest challenge for myself as an educator is not leaping in to try to supply the answers to issues with their projects. Instead I facilitate as a project sponsor and as a collaborator in setting the overall goals and deadlines. I also make a lot of tea and coffee (because what sort of project doesn’t have tea and coffee to lubricate the process?).
Their written assessments have also never been better. Project management can be a dry subject, but now it is related to meaningful projects, not simply exercises that will never be seen again and have no impact on anyone. Each one of the students has something real that they can take away and show to potential employees and potential business partners. Each one has something they can point towards and say: “I did that.”
Trust your students. They have a lot to teach you.
Charles Knight is a senior lecturer in business and management at Edge Hill University.