Rainbows End is a brilliant 2006 science fiction novel by Vernor Vinge. In the book, he describes a world undergoing ever-increasing change after the technological singularity—a premise that the invention of artificial superintelligence will trigger a runaway technological growth that results in unfathomable changes in human civilization. I’m starting to think that what the author envisioned for 2025 is quite possible.
Remember the “Year of the MOOC” of 2012? What would possess us to even consider such a thing as a Massive Open Online Course? Maybe the MOOC captured our life-long-learner imaginations with the potential to enable free university-level education on an enormous scale.
Even the least of us could take a MIT or Stanford course from the leading expert of the world. Or, maybe the MOOC captured our mind’s eye because at our core we are teachers with an absorbing yearning to share our insightful understandings with as many as possible. But alas, the MOOC luster faded quickly.
There were irreconcilable differences; a feeling of betrayal of our basic values coming from staggering low completion rates. We left “divorce court” feeling the MOOC was nothing more than “mere marketing” hype or, at its worst as abject failures.
There were many explanations for the low completion rates but the principal cause centered on a basic pedagogical necessity for learners to be active and receive personal attention and interactions from their teacher. Being a student in a MOOC was much like being a dazed-video–watching-couch-potato in an infinite virtual lecture hall. It didn’t take long for our eyes to glaze over as we faded into the sunset.
But wait – maybe it’s premature to shut the MOOC door and send it to the “it was a nice idea … but” file. Coursera, the biggest MOOC provider, is investing in R&D, trying to find solutions. Their research led them to embrace an innovative active learning style trying to lift students off those binge-watching couches and have them face their screens and interact.
An experimental section of a Coursera coding skill MOOC requires students viewing a video and immediately demonstrate mastery by building a piece of software. The R&D Team teased out some 20 to 40 coding errors learners commonly make. If the student’s submission reveals common conceptual coding mistakes, a pop-up window appears with a clue, suggesting why they may have made the error.
“(Its) like a … (teacher) looking over your shoulder, giving immediate feedback associated with your mistake,” said Coursera R&D scientist Zhenghao Chen. “Students should have a clear idea why they failed,” Chen said. “Feedback prompts them to correct their misconceptions, to think along different paths.” (Ubel, 2017).
Coursera is not alone. Sense, a New York-based tech start-up with R&D labs in Tel Aviv is testing pattern recognition and semantic analysis methods that automatically bundle student answers to gather common results. The instructor might feed in 50 or more quiz solutions at any time.
The system analyzes student responses and reveals common patterns – successful responses, common mistakes, and even novel solutions – shared among submissions. With the Sense automatic batching in a MOOC, with even thousands of students, faculty can quickly pinpoint useful responses to learners who give similar answers – personalizing faculty-student interaction at scale.
What is the MOOC take away? The MOOC is a recent phenomenon but it is confirming the foundations of our understandings of learning we have understood for decades – authentic learning is active. Think: John Dewey and Jean Piaget.
It is easy to point our self-righteous finger at the MOOC– the truth is we are all sinners. We know the power of active learning but get caught up in our own MOOC (Massive Onslaught Of Content). We resort to lectures and multiple choice assessments rather than encouraging active learning.
Maybe the research coming from MOOCs will cause us to stop, reflect, and discover new tools helping us reconnect to our pedagogical souls.
Have you noticed the dark cloud in the corner of your office? That agent of doom that keeps saying: “blended instruction is just a phase,” “you don’t have time and resources to get started with blended,” or “what’s the big deal about blended anyway?”
You are a professor—not an agent of doom.
You care about your students and want the very best learning experiences for them. Why then do you listen to that dark cloud’s pessimism and remain immovable?
Shannon Tipton, in her article, “Go Make Something Happen,” explains that we don’t get started on something new (like blended instruction) because “…we are scaredy cats.” She insists we hold back for these reasons:
We are scared of failure. Scared of looking bad. Scared of losing credibility.
We don’t know where to start.
We are overwhelmed.
We don’t like the topic.
Do you see yourself in that picture? If so, you can move out of the dark cloud and get started with an instructional design team—a rescue squad equipped to take the scary out of the project.
Reach out to your instructional design team.
Join with other minds to brainstorm, identify problems that need solutions, and share perspectives from a variety of angles. Working with a team does not mean that you are placing the learning of your students into someone else’s hands. It truly takes a team to create a successful blended course.
Say goodbye to the dark cloud in the corner and start increasing learning value for your students. Stop letting fear keep you back from providing blended instruction, and start a conversation with us!
Don’t be scared. We will help you look good.
Together, we’ll determine the best place to start.
Let us do some of the heavy lifting.
We focus on learning. We don’t want you to lose those game-winning home runs.
Together, we will find a way through the blended maze.
I spend a lot of mental energy wondering. I wonder if I did this … I wonder why they did that … I wonder if others wonder. I often find myself wondering what helps people learn – including myself. For example, I’m not very mechanically minded. I have spent a lot of sleepless Christmas Eves trying to assemble that awesome present that looked fantastic in the store. I often wonder if there is a better way for me to learn.
Could I be more effective if I attended a class on Some Assembly Required or perhaps watched a YouTube video of Super Handyman? Maybe I should pick up a copy of Assembly for Dummies on my next trip to the hardware store.
Seems I am not alone.
One of the first studies asking the questions I asked above was conducted in the 1940’s by the US Army who had a bunch of guys who needed to learn basic calibration procedures in a short time.
They wondered if it would improve the process if they used a variety of ways to teach. They tried three different methods – the traditional classroom, a book and a film. After the trainings, they evaluated each group and found no significant difference in outcomes between them.
Sixty-four years later.
Years later the introduction of the personal computer and the World Wide Web gave rise to an explosion of online education. Back in the 1990’s when I began developing online courses I wondered if online learning could be as effective as the familiar traditional classroom. Others wondered the same thing. In 2004 a meta-analysis report from Bernard and colleagues accumulated many research studies where they compared learning in face-to-face classes to online courses.
The majority of differences were quite small – meaning that just as in the Army research – learning was equally effective from face-to-face and online versions. With the considerable evolution in technology since 2004 – like the smartphones and cloud-based technologies – I wonder if this is still true.
The US Department of Education wondered the same thing.
In 2010 the US Department of Education did another meta-analysis. This report summarizes experimental comparisons among purely face-to-face, purely online, and the new kid on the block – blended instruction. Just like in 2004, this study concluded online learning was as effective as conventional classroom instruction and neither significantly outperformed the other.
However, this time they found blended instruction to be significantly more effective than both online and face-to-face.
Blended? I wonder why.
What is it about blended instruction making it more effective? I wonder if it’s simply because blended learning allows students to do passive activities like listening asynchronously at home and use face-to-face time for reinforcing interactions.
Maybe it’s because blended learning caters to different learning styles, like visual or kinesthetic. Or could it be because it allows delivery of content through a variety of mediums? I really wonder if it might be because blended gives the faculty time to be more creative making learning more interactive and fun. I wonder if the truth might be that all of these factors contribute to making blended learning one of the most effective ways for students to learn.
So much to wonder about.
Bernard, et al (2004). How does distance education compare with classroom instruction? A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Review of Educational Research 74, 379-439.
Even though it was decades ago, I vividly remember my first high school science classroom. I was right out of college and totally terrified. My professors opened a new world for me, and I wanted more than anything to step into that classroom and show students the beauty of what I had learned. If God gifted you with the heart of a teacher, you understand what I am talking about. I conquered my fear, walked into that classroom, and enthusiastically started my journey of a teacher.
Sometimes on life’s long road it is helpful to pause and reflect on the journey. Marcina Wiederkehr in her book Behold Your Life: A Pilgrimage Through Your Memories (2000) encourages us to reflect on our memories so we can move into the future with new wisdom and strength. As I look back and reflect on my journey of a teacher, two memories surge to the surface.
The first memory is my growing awareness that no two classrooms of students are the same—each classroom has its own personality and characteristics. If I was going to be an effective teacher I couldn’t always do things the same way.
I needed to change along with my students. I needed new strategies.
The second memory is the realization that in my classroom, I was the novice. My students were growing up in a world that was dramatically different than the one I knew. The students arriving in my classroom only knew of a world with computers—the internet, smartphones, Google, and cloud technology swiftly following.
I was not the expert in everything—I was ignorant too. I needed a teacher.
But in my journey, the one constant was my heart of a teacher with its love of learning. And I still want more than anything to share the beauty of what I have learned.
If you have been on the teacher’s journey, I am confident you relate to the transformational insights I shared about my own personal journey. I am also assured of your love of learning.
The truth is we all need new strategies. We find ourselves novices in many areas, and we need a teacher. This is why the eLearning team is taking time to create this blog. It is our attempt to come along side you to provide tips, strategies, and information that might be helpful as you continue your journey of a teacher.