Sage on the stage 2.0 – beyond the classroom


It is fair to say transmissions style education isn’t exactly popular right now. In the era of student-centred learning, co-creation of knowledge the "sage on the stage" is becoming an endangered species. I personally believe there is still a place for ‘traditional’ lectures but only if they fit into a wider continuum of learner engagement.

What do I mean by this? It’s about looking at a students education as a whole and trying to appreciated a learners journey on a more granular basis. So instead of just looking at module outcomes or lecture topics consideration should be given to learner activity inside and outside the classroom. For example, instead of just asking students to look at a chapter in a textbook before the next class get them to perform some sort of activity around the particular topic.

The Department of Psychology at the University of Strathclyde have for a number of years directed students to perform online weekly group activities aligned to face-to-face lectures. The tasks are designed to scaffold learning. So in week one they groups of students are asked to collaborative define psychological terms. In week two students are directed to expand on these terms and collaboratively write a paragraph contextualising these terms. In week three students are required to expand on this and respond to an exam-style essay question. This pattern is repeated for each of the topics in the class. All the time this is happening the lectures are augmenting the online activity and because students are engaging with the topics earlier, instead of cramming before exams, lectures become an opportunity for dialogue. [Click here for a detailed description of the Department of Psychology example.]

This is just one example of how activity outside the classroom can be used to enhance what is done in the classroom. There are a lot more examples of activities you could use. The key is assessment, both formative and summative. Students are highly strategic when it come to their learning. Most are looking for the path of least resistance towards their final goal, usually the accreditation of their knowledge. Assessment therefore features highly is a learners game plan.

The SFC funded REAP project used this notion as a core theme when piloting the redesign of 1st year classes across a range of disciplines. One of the outcomes of this project are a set of assessment principles of good formative assessment and feedback developed by Professor David Nicol and the Assessment Working Group at the University of Strathclyde (copied in below). I believe these principles are incredibly powerful as the represent a distillation of expert knowledge, published research and practical experience.


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  • kevin Brace

    A nice summary of whats needed in curriculum design to cope with our netgenners? I found some useful web 2.0 pedagogy research today which may also compliment your post :
    We definitely need a paradigm shift in assessing learning! That way we could begin to exploit eportfolios more effectively? You never know, we may even move backwards to vivas to combat the plagiarists? Or more discreet chunks of assessment to gradually build up a picture of student capabilities? That’s what the OU First Class discursive platform did well for quite a few years.

  • Martin Hawksey

    Hi Kev,
    Another of your posts which ties in with this is (e)ffective practice. In here you highlight the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) 13 essential conditions, which is a nice list of aspirations.
    I’ve pondered the HE paradigm shift quite a lot recently, often asking myself if I was inventing higher education today what would it look like? I don’t have an answer to that question but I have concluded that ultimately, unless there is a huge global crisis, HE is always just going to incrementally change.
    It’s also inevitable that we will always be chasing change, we just have to minimise the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

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