There was an article in the NY Times recently about a research study that found that students who study online outperform those that study in the classroom. But according to an email Prof. Kathy Gill at U Washington sent to a listserv, the causative factor was not on/off line, but time on task
So it wasn't the medium, it wasn't the message, it was the participation level that made the difference. It makes sense doesn't it? You could be in the most beautiful place with the most beautiful people looking at the most beautiful things, but if you weren't engaged, it was all for naught.
One thing this study does show is that listening to lectures online does work - students can and do pay attention; insight is conveyed, and gained.
Have you heard of Professor Glenn Platt at Miami University? He along with Prof. Maureen Lage invented the concept of "The Inverted Classroom." This is Einstein-like (so simple and yet no-one's ever thought of it before) brilliance.
From the students' point of view (and let's face it, they're the customers!), the lecture is the least interactive part of a learning experience; the assignments/homework are the most interactive.
So why not flip things around and make the lectures homework, and the assignments class work? The teachers should actively facilitate the interactive experience, and expect the students to "attend" the static part out of class.
The lecture is information with some insight (students sit, listen, take notes). The homework and assignments are where you're meant to internalize the concepts, be able to extend them to related areas, and demonstrate your knowledge by submitting solutions to problems you've been assigned (student reviews, infers, works, and documents understanding).
Think back to when you were doing homework - did you collaborate with your peers to solve a particularly difficult problem? If so, you had to arrange for an "out of class" meeting, to connect and then brainstorm, argue, share, and hopefully solve. There are many studies that show that the best way to know is to teach - getting together with your mates was the first step in teaching (or co-teaching), and understanding.
Platt/Lage published this idea nine years ago (in 2000) - shocking that this hasn't been more broadly explored.
- Ability to record and disseminate lectures - requires video recording tools, a portal with video streaming services, the disk space and bandwidth to assure a good experience. This is being done in many places today - my traditional favorite is MIT Open Courseware, but Curtis Wong at Microsoft Research has created a rather ground-breaking project called Tuva - well worth a visit, especially if you share my appreciation for Richard Feynman. I don't think this is as expensive as everyone makes it out to be. Plus there are many organizations that would happily lend assistance to school systems that wished to implement this.
- Capacity for all students to receive and consume lectures at home - this is more contentious. Throwing out the trust issue (kids won't do the work), which I believe is spurious and can be overcome, this is also the expensive part. Every student will require their own device to access lectures (could be as simple as a mobile phone), and the bandwidth to download them. Again - this is not a complex problem, but merely a costly one. I've talked about an adult equivalent of this here, I think the opportunity and impact is even greater for children.
- Incumbents' willingness to change - there are four players involved (besides the students) and each is a big hairy issue. Are teachers and administrators willing to change? Are their unions open to encouraging this type of approach? Will parents (voters) agree to this idea? Does anyone have the cojones to pilot this for a whole school system?
Does it affect pedagogy? Yes. Does it require a new set of teaching skills? Hopefully not - my presumption is that teachers sought this scenario when they chose the profession. Does curriculum need to change? It could - for example, rather than streaming full 50-minute lectures, try ~10 minute "lecturelets" that are aggregated into lessons. One advantage of the inverted model is that the teacher and the lecturer don't have to be the same person. If your state had a standard curriculum, you could record the 4-5 best lecturers in your state, and then have that "best of the best" set of lectures be your streaming library; this library could be updated every two or three years to keep it fresh. The in-class teachers' role becomes more guide on the side.
The other advantage of this lecture/lecturelet model is that students can replay them to clarify understanding and review prior to exams. It allows them to learn in a much more self-directed way.
The issue with this model - will all students actually watch the lectures? No. But how is this different from today? I have observed a number of primary and secondary school classes, and can say with certainty that despite physically being in the room, not every student was really in the room. Moreover, not every student actually did their homework. Bet you're surprised to read that!
One other thing - when surveyed most teachers say that keeping students engaged while in the class is difficult. That doesn't surprise me given that most of the time is spent lecturing. This approach changes that - it puts the teacher in the role of actually working with the students to together internalize, understand and demonstrate the material. And I bet engaged students are more likely to watch lectures at home too.
I would change the approach to assignments - it's not about kids being head's down, answering questions, but rather about a discussion with problem solving, team exercises, lab work, etc. I'm not sure if assessments would need to change (they might), but I think the grading breakdown should - class participation and activity must now be at least 50% of the student's grade.
The data shows that time-on-task helps performance, that it is possible to learn from steaming lectures, and that keeping students engaged is a challenge for teachers. Inverted classrooms could be an answer.
I would really like to see a sizable school district or maybe a whole State give inverted classrooms a try. I think it has incredible potential, and might actually transform learning in a way we've never seen before. Perhaps this is what President Obama and Secretary Duncan should provoke with their Race to the Top program.