Western Australia’s Curtin University plans to abolish all face-to-face lectures and replace them with three 15-minute videos a week by the end of next year.
A draft proposal to redefine the way the university teaches its 50,000-plus students also says that no more exams will be held after mid-next year, except in special circumstances, and undergraduate units can have no more than three assessments.
It also dictates that all units must be delivered 30 per cent online and 70 per cent in person, but a certain number of weekly face-to-face contact hours are no longer required.
Recently circulated among staff, the proposal has sparked concerns that forcing all students to experience more of their student life online could dampen the buzz of campus life and reduce the quality of education.
One Curtin humanities academic, who did not want to be named for fear of losing his job, said he was most concerned about removing lectures from campus and being forced to deal with complex topics in a 15-minute video.
“The topics that we teach are not able to be rendered down to three dot points,” he said.
Like many workplaces, universities quickly moved their operations online at the outbreak of the pandemic in Australia and many students have returned to campuses during the year while still doing some online learning.
Timing during pandemic ‘coincidental’
Curtin, like other Australian universities, is dealing with huge logistical and financial challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, aiming to cut $45 million from its budget — mostly through redundancies.
A shift away from face-to-face lectures was also recently announced by fellow Perth institution Murdoch University, which also plans to include mini-lectures as part of its online options next year.
But a Curtin spokeswoman said that the proposal was developed in response to the changing nature of higher education and student expectations.
“The fact that it is happening during a year that experienced a pandemic, and so soon after the pivot to online delivery, is coincidental but timely,” she said.
‘We are increasingly constrained,’ academic says
The humanities academic said Curtin had long offered many students the opportunity to watch lectures online — if they were unable to attend on campus — and he did not understand the reasons for mandating online lectures.
“We have already had blended learning — we have been doing that for at least a decade,” he said.
“This is removing the students’ choice.”
He also said the proposal had come at a bad time for many staff, who were already exhausted by the job cuts.
“They fear for the future of their own careers and for their students,” he said.
“We are increasingly constrained in our ability to do our jobs effectively.”
Another academic, who feared losing his job for speaking out, said he thought the reduced number of student contact hours would disproportionately hurt casual staff, potentially putting their positions under threat.
“Financial imperatives are being presented as educational innovation,” he said.
The Curtin spokeswoman said the proposal was first presented to senior leaders two weeks ago and was attracting staff feedback.
Once completed, it would be rolled out over the next two to three years.