The New Educational Model?

Information Week reports on Duke University’s experiment with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and the effect it may have on other courses.

The big shift: far fewer in-class lectures. Students will watch the lectures [on-line, and] “Class will become a time for activities and also teamwork,” said Sinnott-Armstrong. He’s devised exercises to help on-campus students engage with the concepts in the class, including a college bowl-like competition, a murder mystery night and a scavenger hunt, all to help students develop a deeper understanding of the material presented in the lectures.

This is not appropriate for all types of classes, of course, but for introductory-level lecture courses? Yes. In fact I’ve been contemplating this for a couple of years for my American Government class. All that’s kept me from pulling the trigger is the high up-front cost of development. It’s easy to walk into a class and lecture. I’ve got a set of lecture notes, and for that class I rarely need to look at them, so I can just walk into the classroom and be good to go nearly every day.

But to do video lectures well requires a more serious time investment.
Neta is re-recording all his video lectures. For the first Coursera session, he taught them as he would in a live

class, walking around and writing on a whiteboard. That created video quality issues. He’s now using ScreenFlow, a video creation and distribution package, and recording them while seated, using animations to replace his whiteboard scribbling.

In-class I can pause and back up, detour to answer a student’s question, and clarify when they’re confused, so a free-form style that’s not always perfectly organized is functional. Online, it needs to be clear from start to finish, which requires revising my notes into an actual script (which takes way more time than you might expect, or at least should–for my part I tend to be neurotically perfectionist about such things in a way I don’t even begin to approximate when performing live). And the “animations to replace…whiteboard scribbling?” Awesome, since my whiteboard scribbling regularly causes students to squint hard and miss what I’m saying next, and my attempts at drawing images, maps, graphics are hilariously kindergardnerish. But making those animations can be a very slow and time-consuming process.

Below is a video I made, using XXXX, for use in my American Government class. This required at least 5 hours of work. It’s a bit long, at almost 5 minutes, but it would have taken even more work to make it shorter. Of course some people work faster than I do (but some–although by no means all–also work more sloppily than I do), and with experience time to completion diminishes.

And then, of course, there is the time commitment for developing good interactive projects. Frankly, I just don’t know what some of these things should look like, so before I even can invest time in crafting them, I have to invest time in figuring out what kinds of activities they should be. Some folks are good at that kind of thing, but unfortunately I’m not really one of them. I grab other ideas when I find them, and have done a few things on my own, but I have nothing like a complete set yet. (And of course not all activities are created equal–just because someone says their students really like a certain activity doesn’t mean the students really learned the topic it is meant to relate to.)

But those are stumbling blocks to implementation, not pedagogical critiques. The value of this approach is that more of the students’ required effort is outside the classroom, and the class time can be used for more productive learning methods (lectures really are a shitty way to transmit ideas and information and get them to stick, and lord knows I get bored of hearing myself repeat the same old things every semester). It’s the same idea behind the series of films/videos my colleague and I require students to watch for our Nuclear Weapons and Power course. They’re valuable things for the students to watch, but that doesn’t mean they should take up class time. Also the interactive redistricting and budgeting simulations I have my students play.

I’m not one to jump at every educational fad that goes around, and education’s just chock full of stupid fads. But I’ve seen the difference in learning between passively receiving information and actively messing around with it. And I’m tired of often being bored by my bread-and-butter class.

Hat tip to Wil Truman at Ordinary Times.


About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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One Response to The New Educational Model?

  1. trumwill says:

    It’s not exactly the same, but I was always a skeptic of “technology in the classroom” (talking K-12 here, or K-6 more precisely) until I saw it at work, subbing. The same kids that I struggled to pay attention during class – even though it was hardly a lecture format – were just eating up their math and language lessons on a computer. They all got to move at their own pace. Very little goofing off going on.

    For college, I think it’s going to be a great option for a lot of people that don’t have a whole lot of options. Which is a bit of a drag because you’re always going to get higher dropout rates and failure rates that people will point to as reasons why the format stinks. But hopefully it will continue. Whether it goes beyond that, I’m not sure.

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