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Digitalization means more quality time with students

The role as a university teacher has been subject to a big efficiency drive and a great deal of rationalisation. We are expected to graduate many more students in a shorter time. This has affected the quality time you have with each student and reduced time for critical thinking and scientific discussion. Can digitalisation perhaps be the way to improve this?

Having said that, we university lecturers are often set in our ways and keen to maintain the traditional form of lectures. A high proportion of teacher time is also spent on exams, that rarely embrace teaching and rather than being stimulating, tend to be monotonous and contribute little to development. It would be better if we were to change the way we teach to enable us to safeguard precious discussion time with students.

In an opinion piece in the fifth edition of the publication Universitetsläraren, Peter Svensson of Lund University questions the digitalisation of universities and in particular the focus on efficiency and less student contact that he feels this risks leading to. But that’s not the purpose of digitalisation.

Digitalisation aims to promote a new view of teaching and how you can allocate time for students in the most efficient way and with the highest possible quality. Bloom’s taxonomy, a set of hierarchical models for different levels of learning, has classified learning into six different levels;

  1. Memorising facts and concepts.
  2. Understanding and explaining ideas and concepts.
  3. Applying knowledge in new situations.
  4. Analysing associations and seeing patterns.
  5. Making evaluations and assessments in order to be able to take decisions and base opinions on.
  6. Innovation.

Traditional lectures focus on the first two levels and in the best instance, provide inspiration and motivation to complement traditional course literature. The students are then left to acquire knowledge at higher levels. Facts and comprehension can be managed with one-way communication via lectures, while higher levels require a social context, cooperation with students, hopefully with greater senior mentor support.

Would it not therefore be of benefit to reduce teaching time for facts and comprehension in favour of more time for campus learning related to analysis, evaluation and innovation that requires seminars, project teamwork and complex problem formulation and solving? Even so, this tends to get sacrificed at a time when demands are rising at a faster rate than the resources available to implement this.

This is exactly where digitalisation can come to the rescue. Digital lectures, with a different structure to traditional lectures, can be rethought as time, place and recording speed are all flexible. Digital lectures can reach a far bigger audience, of all ages and situations in life. Digital forms of examination enable machine marking and immediate feedback on student teaching. Large data volumes can be used to steer education initiatives towards that which students find difficult and time consuming, rather than spending time on less complex areas.

If today’s students are to feel that a study programme is relevant and something for them, digitalisation of education is necessary. The digitalisation of universities is a key to meeting the demands and expectations of the future.