Has the era of the super teacher arrived? Will the role of the traditional teacher be turned upside down? Are we on the cusp of complete disruption to the standard educational model?
Two emerging technologies — free massive open online courses (MOOCs) and interactive, “flipped” classrooms — suggest that the answer to each of these questions is a resounding, Yes.
Free massive open online courses
Stanford’s Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thron recently put their Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course on-line and — astonishingly — 160,000 students from 209 countries signed up. This watershed event has accelerated the emergence of companies that offer free MOOCs. Examples include Thron’s company, Udacity, and Coursera, which delivers 116 courses from 16 universities, among them Penn, Princeton, Michigan, Duke, Toronto, Edinburgh and Stanford.
So what, you say. Online education has been around for a long time. University of Phoenix, for example. What’s the big deal?
Whereas previous on-line learning competed with traditional models, MOOCs transform learning as we know it. At a minimum, MOOCs revolutionize access to education. For example, Coursera envisions “a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions” using technology that “enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students.”
You can bet that college presidents around the world are waking up in cold sweats thinking about the implications of MOOCs to their enrollments, business plans and overall survival.
The emergence of the super teacher
Norvig and Thron’s innovation is not solely that they have leveraged modern educational technology platforms to provide massive access to their popular and highly regarded course. It’s how they did so.
Their goal was to deliver an online learning experience that met or exceeded the quality of their Stanford class. From Khan Academy, they learned that ten minute videos were more effective than an hour long recorded lecture. But they went further: “We decided to go even shorter and more interactive,” says Norvig in his recent TED Talk. “Our typical is two minutes, sometimes shorter, and never more than six, and then we pause for a quiz to make it feel like one-on-one tutoring.”
The world’s greatest instructors can now teach virtually anyone anywhere on Earth and achieve the feel of one-on-one instruction — for free. Millions of the planet’s poor who thirst for knowledge will drink at the fount of these super teachers. And for students attending your local educational institution? Why would they take Intro to Artificial Intelligence — or grade 9 algebra, for that matter — from anyone but the world’s best?
The implications are stunning. If in theory all students will have access to the world’s greatest teachers, what happens to the rest of the teachers?
Interactive, “flipped” classrooms
The centuries old instructional model is as follows: the teacher presents the material in class and the student does practice problems for homework. Interactive, “flipped” classrooms are turning that model upside down. Teachers now assign their lectures for homework and then coach students through problem solving in class. Homework for class and class for homework.
There are a number of emerging technologies that assist teachers to manage the flipped classroom, including some free iPad® apps. However, the best I have seen to date is from Harvard University’s Eric Mazur. Learning Catalytics helps the teacher manage the interactive classroom brilliantly.
Assigned the lecture for homework, students arrive in class and take a quick assessment using any modern web-enabled device: laptop, smartphone or tablet. Learning Catalytics analyzes the results and creates student work groups, pairing those who answered the assessment question correctly with those who did not. The students, who do not know if they answered correctly or not, then collaboratively solve similar problems while the teacher floats, coaching student groups. After students answer a second question assessing the same skill, Learning Catalytics charts the improvement in scores. The goal is 100% correct response after which the next skill is tested, new subgroups are formed and the process repeats itself iteratively.
An educational tsunami
In the last decade, we have witnessed the creative destruction and transformation of many industries: news, entertainment and travel to name a few. And now we will watch the same painful, invigorating process unfold in education. As Walter Isaacson said at a recent Microsoft CEO Summit: Education “is the one, major sector that has not been totally transformed by the digital revolution. We are now at an inflection point. It is about to happen.”
MOOCs and interactive, “flipped”classrooms are two disruptive innovations that fit like hand and glove. We are on the cusp of an educational tsunami: Super teachers will provide instruction to hundreds of thousands or even millions of students as homework; the next morning, their classroom teachers will coach students through problem solving in interactive, “flipped” classrooms.