The flipping classroom!

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.

Continue reading “The flipping classroom!”

I dropped-sideways from Coursera

My future potential will be forever blemished by my lack of completion in Coursera’s Fantasy and Science Fiction class.  So, it’s a good thing it’s not on any permanent records 😉 The class was well-organized and by-far one of the best English-literature classes I’ve taken.  The professor’s video lectures alone are worth signing up just to see.  In fact, his lecture on interpretation is a great explanation of why readers have different views of a book and why some are wrong.

Honestly, the timing of this class was not very convenient.  It came smack in the middle of my Database final, leaving the military (for good this time), and moving back home.  But, I still found time to go to the Philadelphia’s Linux User Group (PLUG) and hear some anecdotes by Eric Raymond.

The PLUG Penguin by Stephanie Fox.

There was about 20 Penguin-heads in attendance and after an hour of lively discussion from Virtual Machine hosting to the Carrington event, ESR took the podium.  He told of several anecdotes, some which I intend to post about in the near future, but the one that fits well with my Coursera experience was his tale of Culture Hacking.

On his blog, ESR advocates the creation of a “ground truth” document by software engineers, who find themselves working on hardware, or a system, with less than adequate documentation.  Simply put, it is the process of document assumptions about how the system works prior to writing any code.  Some enlightened commenters expressed thanks to ESR for naming a practice for which they’ve routinely performed. Culture. Hacked. This practice now has a name to which others can refer and spread.  While it may not be the catchiest name, the fact that the idea is now named gives it weight.  In fact, this is one of the few things that stuck with me from Gravity’s Rainbow (that and I want a banana greenhouse on my rooftop):

“Names by themselves may be empty, but the act of naming…”

So, in the spirit of a new J.J. Abrams show, I officially bestow this name: Drop Sideways: The act of no longer attending a MOOC.  I would call it pulling a “datko” but something tells me that thousands of others are doing the same thing.  Besides, at my last job, I’ve heard some shout “datko!” when there was just enough coffee in the pot, for a half cup :p

Fantasy and Science Fiction MOOC

Week 1 of a revolutionary Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, is complete.  The Coursera (and Udacity) experience is blowing the lid off of the traditional liberal-arts education, this class included, and I encourage everybody to take a class on either site.

Last year, Sebastian Thun taught an online Artificial Intelligence class to over 500,000 students and subsequently went on to launch Udacity.  It’s not surprising then, that the initial courses from Udacity and Coursera are computer science related.  I believe the english class that I’m taking now, is the first literature course available en masse on either site.

Yet these computer science courses have already proven to be successful, but FantasySF (as it’s known on Twitter) is a different type of course, one that involves subjective discussion.  Unlike in AI, there is no optimal path for which A* to find.  The novel aspect of this course is its structure, which is the same week-to-week for ten weeks:

  1. On Thursdays, a new unit starts with an introductory video from the professor.
  2. The student has five days to read a novel and then write a 270-320 word essay.
  3. Once the essay is submitted on Tuesday, the student is sent five random essays to grade (1-3) and provide anonymous feedback by Thursdays.
  4. On Thursday, feedback is received from the peer evaluations and the cycle starts over.

Now consider the demographic of students: ranging from 12 – 81 and consisting of students from all over the world!  At any time, students can interact with each other on the Forums, which had something like 4000 posts in the first day.  The interaction was so great, that real-life meetups, blogs and book clubs on other websites like Goodreads have spawned.

The professor provides a few insightful videos for each book and has already added an impromptu recording based on Forum discussions.  I’m posting my essay here along with the student feedback.  I found the feedback constructive and spot-on and I have no idea who wrote it.  Even a self-admitted non-native english speaker learned a few new words 🙂

And while I completely disagree with Andrew Hacker’s op-ed, it’s refreshing to take a class with thousands of classmates who want to learn.  For the record, algebra is definitely a class everyone should take…

I’m very interested in where this rabbit hole leads (guess what Book 2 is…) and I’ll continue to post about this experience.  There are certainly things that aren’t working with this format (as evidenced by thousands of disappointed posts on the forums), but hey, we’re still in beta!