Are business lecturers now part of the ‘edutainment’ business?

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By Professor Zahir Irani, Dean Management and Law, University of Bradford School of Management, @Zahirirani1

Many academics are stuck in routines that are looking outdated and out of tune with 21st century lives - like the attachment to dissertations and long written assignments in general, which increasingly seem to be kept up as traditions rather than for a specific purpose. Change is needed to shift the model to one that’s more in keeping with the realities of modern working practices and the needs of employers that seek team players.

At the same time there are pressures for change from the evolution in the nature of the student body itself. For example, there’s been a leap in numbers of BTEC students - up 179% in the past decade - a body of students that have found the transition from being taught to being lectured a stiff challenge. There are more non-traditional students, more mature students, in general.

In terms of day-to-day practice the pull towards vocational education means the pressure is on for academics to be more like facilitators rather than simply lecture. Other factors in the changing role of lecturers has been the convenience and widespread use of VLEs and the increasing popularity of digital technologies used for simulations, flipped classrooms and video based learning and research. There’s an acceptance among both students and staff that learning and sources of learning materials aren't only available in the lecture hall and library, useful content can be found in a range of locations and learning takes place all the time and everywhere. Students naturally expect and demand the use of technology as the medium of learning.

In the minds of academics, this kind of sparky edutainment approach can have the look of dumbing down, a thinning out and discarding of principles for the sake of meeting demands for vocational relevance. There’s an important balance to be had, particularly in business and management. The quality and integrity of the lecturing role can be maintained by finding a middle ground, ditching some of the traditions that are unnecessary or ineffective, and building new roles that bring people together to develop their abilities.

That means lecturers becoming more active facilitators in the co-creation of knowledge, able to step back from the traditional position as an oracle and work more closely with students on skills and pushing for higher standards in terms of both knowledge and research outputs at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. And specifically, there’s an increasingly important role for lecturers in planning, enabling and leading on more team-based working and projects - the area for skills where HE has traditionally been less strong and challenging to assess, and which has such value for both graduates and employers.