Dr. Ian Bogost, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology (but I know him best as the creator of Cow Clicker) has an article in the Atlantic about the flipped classroom trend. The flipped classroom, where students watch the lectures as homework and complete what would have been homework during class, has gained popularity by Massively Open Online Courseware like Coursera, Udacity and Khan Academy. He states that:
Perhaps surprisingly, a flipped classroom doesn’t fundamentally alter the nature of the experience… Both MOOCs and flipped classrooms still rely on the lecture as their principal building block. In a typical classroom students listen to lectures. In a flipped classroom, students still listen to lectures — they just do so as homework, edited down into pleasurably digestible chunks. The lecture is alive and well, it’s just been turned into a sitcom.
A week later he posted that while the flipped classroom idea isn’t all that new and it’s really the seminar format with high faculty-student interaction that provides the best learning atmosphere.
However Ian fails to address this point: the “sitcom” lectures on Coursera and Udacity are recorded by some of the top professors in their field, who are also great lecturers. I’ve used Udacity to supplement lectures for some professors who, despite impressive CVs, weren’t quit as gifted lecturers.
It was announced at a conference that over 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030. Now, this just wasn’t any conference, it was an event that routinely addresses “ideas worth spreading.” And the speaker wasn’t just any speaker, it happens to be a futurist at Google.
The tag line of losing over 2 billion jobs is certainly an attention getter, as was the speakers point. However, the desired take away is not the loss of jobs but the upcoming developments in five specific industries that are on the verge of revolution. One such industry is one that I’ve mentioned before: education. And the speaker claims that teachers jobs’ are on the line. Recently, there has been further progress to this future in the form of another MIT project: MITx. MITx is a free, evaluated course that when passed, bestows a certificate from MIT. The courses are taught at MIT level with MIT standards, however they are completely free. The first course is on electronics and circuits, but more courses are soon to follow.
How does this eliminate teachers? The idea is that one teacher / professor creates the “perfect” course, which is forever recorded. Then students wanting to take that course, can replay it as often as they can Downtown Abbey. There even could be TAs that grade submitted material (or that could even be automated…), but anyway, that course would never be taught again. Therefore, teachers are replaced with “course designers” and of course, not all teachers will be eliminated, we just need to keep enough of the best around to record the courses.
There are some issues that have still yet to be resolved. For example, all of these courses are at the higher education level. While Khan Academy targets high school topics, I don’t know of any K-12 courses, yet. Another argument is the lack of interaction from a virtual environment, more specifically, the lack of face-to-face interaction. Which, I was initially concerned about in my online courses. However, through the use of 90’s style (it’s an antiquated courseware backend) forums, all of the students can ask questions which are answered by other students / the professor. Compared to actual classes, I’ve felt there is more interaction as everybody benefits from the reading the posts and the best part is that it is asynchronous and recorded, i.e. one can go back and review the questions.
The final barrier for this education reform is how to recognize knowledge learned. Which, is a problem that is not really solved even in today’s system, as we still use SATs to predict college potential. Open courseware is to college as home school is to primary education. I feel home school is more accepted now, especially if a student aces the SATs. So, what’s the difference between a student who studied for 4 years with open courseware and one that studied at a brick and mortar university besides the $150,000 of debt?