In an era when many elite universities such as MIT's OpenCourseWare and Harvard's Open Learning Initiative are posting materials online for free, students can easily grab material online. Such a learning environment avoids courses completely or seriously reshapes them, which might eventually produce a very effective new form of college. This provocative idea was recently posted by Randy Bass, as reported in an article in The Chronicle.
Bass pointed out that many students rate the most valuable part of their learning experience at college takes place outside the traditional classroom and beyond the formal curriculum. His observations are supported by an annual study from the National Survey of Student Engagement. Data from the study revealed that four of the eight "high-impact" learning activities identified by students who took the survey required no classroom time at all. At a time when many college administrators are taking a hard look at the status quo in college instruction, Mr. Bass hopes that instructors will stop looking at traditional courses as a goal unto themselves but focus more on linking skills conveyed in the classroom to hands-on and practical student activities. In fact, this evolution in pedagogy has already begun, as Mr. Bass argues, exemplified by a new generation of instructors using technology-infused/assisted teaching methods.
As much information can be found online, having a course without any lecture at all is not entirely absurd. According to The Chronicle, some universities have already started to challenge the traditional course model by running seven-week immersion projects with no lecture component, in which students collaborate with one another in teams on projects that benefit nonprofit organizations.
If practical activities instead of lectures become the core activity at colleges, do students even need to come to campus? What will the future hold for traditional courses? Is this the beginning of the end for the traditional course model?