Last night I began my first Coursera MOOC (massively open online course) entitled Blended Learning: Personalizing Education for Students, taught by some of the key folks who are driving this movement. I watched the four short videos for this week, participated in the quizzes and poked around in several of the already active discussion forums. The first homework assignment (which I haven’t done yet, don’t judge me) is to post your own definition of blended learning. While it would be premature to make any meaningful assessment about this particular course, I’m struck by how much of the conversation around blended learning for students is about personalization, self-paced instruction with some component of creating/making, while much of the professional development I’ve seen for educators is not. While MOOCs have a certain appeal to some, if you don’t learn well from watching video lectures, then you’re pretty much out of luck as self-paced is not the same as personalization.
The most exciting (and challenging) aspect of flipping the classroom is figuring out how to bring real hands-on learning activities back into the school day. Khan Academy, often at the center of the flipped classroom conversation, is exploring some interesting project-based learning efforts during their Discovery Lab Summer Camp. A few members of the team are in the middle of running 3 2-week long sessions at the International School of the Peninsula for middle school students and I got a chance to stop by for a bit this week and observe their lesson on reverse engineering.
The ~20 students in the group were asked to bring in pretty mundane household items, ranging from an old-school telephone to a toaster (one student even attempted to take apart an iPhone), to reverse engineer. One of the newest KA team members, Karl Wendt, shared his example of deconstructing a hair dryer and identifying the various parts, their functions and the materials used to construct the object.
While it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from a brief observation session, it was clear to see the students were engaged in the work and doing some interesting research to understand the mechanics and history of their products. Creating this experience in a 2 week summer camp environment reaching ~ 100 kids is great. Integrating these projects into classrooms across diverse schools and communities during the school year is a massive challenge.
People have strong feelings about Khan Academy, and even the assumptions behind the flipped classroom model. (I think we should acknowledge that people often have strong feelings about a lot of things and move on to what really matters.) To appropriately address this massive challenge of making learning engaging and relevant for all students, we need to continue to attract all forms of energy and talent to create solutions.
I think the best ideas often come from diverse teams bringing new and creative ways of approaching the problem. This is what excites me most about the recent surge in energy and attention focused on the education space, which has brought more people into the conversation who typically wouldn’t want to take on the massive challenge of fixing what’s not working in schools right now.
Personally, I am drawn to solutions that come from entrepreneurial teachers, however I believe we should embrace that diversity of perspective, focusing more on the solutions and their potential for future impact, rather than rejecting approaches that come from ‘non-traditional’ sources. I think that’s the best way for us to collectively re-engineer the future of education.
The Economist recently published an article on applying Khan Academy to ‘flip’ the classroom. This ‘flip’ refers to covering content as homework (through online KA videos) and then spending classroom time on exercises (which traditionally would be done at home.)
Thinking about the ‘flip’ in this narrow way is problematic. Merely shifting when/where lectures and homework are done is just the first step. The biggest opportunity that the ‘flip’ offers is the increased time for teachers to engage students through social, project-based activities that reinforce the concepts covered in the videos. While one of the teachers claims ‘math is social now’ they fail to provide examples of what that really means. Once teachers are given tools and resources to integrate hands-on learning into the increased classroom time, then we will all see real results. We are heading in the right direction, but ‘flipping’ the classroom is the first step and not the full solution.