Christine Lindstrom

ACSME Panel: Are lectures a thing of the past?

Christine Lindstrom

Dr Christine Lindstrom, UNSW

Christine is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Physics at UNSW Sydney where she is Director of Higher Year Studies and Head of Research in the Physics Education Research for Evidence Centred Teaching (PERfECT@UNSW) group. She completed her PhD in Physics Education Research at the University of Sydney, has held positions at various universities in Norway, and has been a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of Colorado Boulder, USA. Christine is passionate about student active teaching methods, which she has used in her own courses and supported colleagues to learn about and use for over a decade. Her research focuses on improving physics teaching in higher education and student understanding of astronomical scale.

I started at UNSW in 2019, and one of the courses I took over was a first year course on Energy and Environmental Physics with about 70 students enrolled each year. It had been taught in quite a traditional way before, but as a physics education researcher who had been using flipped classroom for a decade, I decided to flip the course. This involved writing clear learning goals for each lecture, finding relevant online videos for first exposure covering the learning goals, designing formative quizzes for every lecture to evaluate students’ understanding of the learning goals, and developing Peer Instruction questions for use in our whole-class face-to-face sessions. This took a lot of work, but it made the pedagogy evidence-based and was greatly appreciated by the students.

My course fared well in 2020 because it was already flipped. All first exposure material was on the LMS (Moodle site), but while modifying the course to fully online teaching wasn’t hard conceptually, again it did take time. To adjust to the new constraints, I went to weekly rather than hourly modules, recorded online lectures to address challenges in pre-lecture quiz, and reserved synchronous sessions for what we needed 2-way communication for, namely the Peer Instruction questions.

In both 2019 and 2020, the guiding star for redesign was always What am I trying to achieve with this course? With the learning goals clear in mind, the next question was: Which pedagogical tools best support students in achieving the learning goals within the available resources? The question was never Should I have large lectures or not? The main benefits of gathering the whole class in one lecture theatre is that it is time efficient for the lecturer and enables two-way communication.

However, making significant changes to a course requires time and effort. Pedagogically redesigning a course is a separate activity to delivering a course—and should be recognized as such. The question isn’t whether to keep large lectures or not; the questions are ‘What are we trying to achieve with each course?’, ‘What resources—including physical spaces—do we have access to?’, and ‘How much time do the academics have to develop and teach the course?’