kitchen table math, the sequel: Eureka, part 2: why MOOCs don't work and flipped classrooms never will work

Friday, December 13, 2013

Eureka, part 2: why MOOCs don't work and flipped classrooms never will work

Eureka, part 1

So as I was saying, Ed and I were having lunch in the American Diner, somewhere in the vicinity of Nyack (if I am not mistaken) and we were talking about MOOCs, and I had a eureka moment re: why MOOCs don't work, and why flipped classrooms won't work, either.

The whole MOOC/flipped classroom extravaganza of lo these past 2 years------


Has it been 2 years?

Should we date the commencement of MOOC fever to Bill Gates' anointment of Salman Khan as the new new thing?


Two seconds on Google brings us to Bill Gates on the “golden era” of learning, thanks to massive open online courses and easy access to information, so I say Yes, blame Bill Gates. Because if it wasn't Bill Gates who launched us on the MOOCs-&-flips merry-go-round, it could have been. Pretty much wherever you see a really bad idea re: public education taking hold, you will find Bill Gates.

So I blame Bill.

Anyway, Ed and I got on the subject of MOOCs, and while I no longer recall our point of departure, we pretty quickly arrived at the simple fact that MOOCs (and flips) are fantastically boring.

The fantastic boringness of MOOCs is no secret, & pretty much everyone concedes the point (though for different reasons) but the question is: Why?

Why are MOOCs fantastically boring?

More to the point, why are MOOCs fantastically boring to me, a person who is perfectly happy, and not remotely bored, listening to a live lecture delivered inside a lecture hall?

I can prove it, too. Morningside's Summer School Institute, which I attended the summer before last, used a heavy-duty lecture format; we students sat for hours of lecture, hours on end. Lecture and Powerpoints.

It was great!

By the end of the two weeks I was exhausted and my brain was fried, but I wasn't bored (just the opposite), and, more importantly, I was still in the class. Everyone was. Which would not have been the case if we'd been taking the class via MOOC.

(For the record, the first week of the Summer School Institute is largely lecture; the second week is divided between lecture and student teaching in Morningside Academy.)

My point being: I have a very high tolerance for lecture; I have no problem showing up for, learning from, and enjoying live lectures delivered in bricks-and-mortar venues. Where MOOCs are concerned, I should be a natural.

So why can't I make it through more than 2 or 3 (usually 2) taped lectures of a MOOC?

Ed brought up movies.

When you go to the movies, he said, the screen is huge, the sound is deafening, all the lights are turned off, you can't talk to your friends, and you aren't allowed to turn your cell phone on. Plus a movie lasts only a couple of hours, then you never have to see it again unless there's a sequel that you really want to see, and you don't have to see that for at least a year.

And even at the movies, even with all the ploys and devices filmmakers and theater designers have developed to hold your attention, if the plot sags, your mind wanders.

MOOCs don't have any of those things, so good luck. The wonder of it all is not that the drop-out rate for MOOCs is catastrophic, but that anyone thought they were a good idea in the first place.

Ed continued.

TV, he said, had had to follow in the footsteps of movies. TVs are bigger, the sound is louder, the experience more immersive….

That's not really true, I said. It's definitely not true of sit coms. Sit coms are the exact same hokey, flat-lit, 3-camera affair they always were, with the laugh track telling you when to laugh, and they work. They always have.

That's when it hit me.

Part 3 t/k

Eureka, part 2
Eureka, part 3
Eureka, part 4
Eureka, part 5

Flipping the Classroom: Hot, Hot, Hot
MOOCs grow the gap
The New York Times is surprised
In the world of MOOCs, 2+2 is never 4
World's funniest joke: humor depends on surprise
Dick Van Dyke on comedy
Philip Keller on the flipped classroom
If students could talk
Who wants flipped classrooms? (Salman Khan on liberating teachers)
True story
Are math & science lectures boring in a way humanities & social science lectures are not?


C T said...

I suspect the reason Khan Academy got so much attention is that it is a way to sneak direct instruction back into the classroom while still looking "21st century". Until constructivists admit they've oversold their curricula, people who want actual, efficient education to occur are going to keep looking for other "new things" like it.

Anne Dwyer said...

Sorry, I love, love, love (some) MOOCs.

MOOCs are giving me an opportunity to learn something from the world class professors with some very interesting and amazing students.

My area of interest is predictive analytics. This is a relative new area and developments are happening all the time. Coursera offers two classes taught by professors in the Biostatistics from Johns Hopkins. (And others of course. These two are just the latest that I have taken)

I won't go into a long post here, but a lot of the information in the lectures are useful and applicable and only available otherwise in academic papers. Some of the students in the class are PhDs who are already proficient in these areas but are looking for new tools or looking to use the same tools in the programming language R. Any questions you have, you can get answered by other students or the community TAs.

But therein lies the problem that I see with MOOCs. MOOCs work really well for people who already have a degree and know exactly what other knowledge they need to pursue.

The lectures are boring and they are spotty. You have to fill in a lot of information on your own. This is fine for someone who is looking to take their skills to the next level but would not be appropriate for someone learning the material for the first time.

I, personally, cannot listen to live lectures for a long period of time. My attention span is severely limited for live lectures and always has been.

BTW, not that I know Catherine is obsessively pursing grammar knowledge, I am very self conscious about the grammar in my posts!

SteveH said...

For me, learning is all about the material and/or the teacher I have. The format probably is less important. I can find one book that is amazing, but another one could be awful. I don't use it as a judgment of whether books are a good vehicle for learning. Flipping the classroom could work if teachers used the class time for ensuring individual mastery of the basics, or it could be a waste of time as a mixed-ability group learning tool. I have been in some really boring direct learning environments, but some professors I had were amazing even though I was just listening.

There is also the difference between the different things I have to learn. In math, I know that I had to spend a lot of time working on skills that might be useful later on. I wouldn't want to learn about vectors while I had to use them for a particular task.

However, I had to learn how to use Expression Web to produce web sites a while back, but that is not my main job. In that case, I prefer more of a prototype approach to learning. Just get me started with the stub of a real working site and then I can learn extra skills as needed. Prototyping is a very powerful approach to getting tasks done, but it's not a good model for proper development of the breadth and depth of skills required if that will be your main area of expertise.

There is also the need for ensuring understanding and skills at each step of the process. If the material is complex or is built upon specific skills, it doesn't matter how the material is presented, you have to have the internal or external (via tests) motivation to not cut corners. Some books I have used worked wonderfully as soon as I forced myself to carefully read each line, and do and understand each problem. Then again, other books continued to be impenetrable. The content of the explanation is much more important than the format of the presentation.

Catherine Johnson said...

BTW, not that I know Catherine is obsessively pursing grammar knowledge, I am very self conscious about the grammar in my posts!

Oh, that's funny!

I'm having the same problem with my OWN posts!

Every once in a while I've called myself the Grandma Moses of grammar (which isn't obnoxious at alllll) -- but, obnoxious or not, it was really true. When I finally started learning grammar I discovered that I had picked up a huge number of grammar rules, including things like use of the possessive pronoun before a gerund.

(Do you mind my sitting here? versus Do you mind me sitting here?)

Now that I'm learning grammar (& as much linguistics as I possibly can) I stumble over some of my own sentences -- and sometimes stumble over sentences in published prose -- in a way I wouldn't have before.

It happened again just last night….I have to see if I can remember where I saw the sentence in question.

There was a pronoun usage that hit me wrong (sounded wrong) --- and then, after it hit me wrong, I couldn't figure out if it **was** wrong (wrong in the traditionalist sense, not the linguistic sense…)

Oh, I remember where it was.

I'm going to post it.

Good point about the MOOCs, Anne - I'm going to get your comment up after I get to the comments on the Forbes article, which say **exactly** what you've just said.

ALSO…I personally am thrilled MOOCs exist; if I can possibly force myself to carve out the time, I intend to take Harvard's Shakespeare MOOC, which is going to be incredible.

That gets me to another thing…..I am SOOOO tired of ***everything*** in the edu-world being a breathless save-the-world undertaking, with save-the-world meaning Bring enlightenment to the masses.

I bow to no one in my concern for the achievement gap, and I am doing my intensive part in fixing the achievement gap inside my classes.

But the idea that it is **only** possible to laud MOOCs as mass education on a global scale is ludicrous ---- and the fact that that's all anyone seems to care about is damaging to the children of educated families (as I am seeing, yet again, here in my town…)

Catherine Johnson said...

Flipping the classroom could work if teachers used the class time for ensuring individual mastery of the basics

It's not going to work.

The format is critically important.


That's what I finally figured out.

Have to get part 3 written now.

Catherine Johnson said...

Speaking of format, though, why are books still with us?

People have been predicting the demise of books for quite a few years now, and not unreasonably; newspapers & magazines are hemorrhaging blood and dying in the road.

But not books.

I don't understand.

(My own reading habits coincide with the various news reports. I used to read tons of books, and I still read tons of books. I used to also read tons of magazines, and now I read virtually no magazines.)

Catherine Johnson said...

Anne- I think the secret to listening to lectures is to try to transcribe every word being spoken. That's what I do: I do the exact opposite of what everyone tells you to do re: taking notes.

I make no on-the-fly distinctions in terms of what's important & what's not; I try to transcribe the lecture.

That forces attention, and I have a fabulous record of the lecture afterwards, one that's easily reorganized via boldfacing, bullet points, etc.

I used my laptop at Morningside. People couldn't believe how extensive my notes were. Pages and pages.

froggiemama said...

I hate lectures,live or taped. They are such an inefficient way to transfer information. Live, I can never take notes fast enough, and by the time I have thought through a point, the professor has barrelled ahead. Taped, I find myself endlessly rewinding, never quite hitting the spot I want. In both cases, I end up mainly using the Powerpoints, and no surprise, that is what my students do too.

Now a nice book, that is really useful. I can easily find the information, I can reread and reread until the key points have entered my brain, and I can highlight and copy things at my own pace.

My idea of perfect education would be a course centered around reading the book, with a professor available to answer questions. It could be online - in fact that would be perfect. Or if we want to get Bill Gates interested, how about interactive books where you can click on a paragraph, and are given the chance to enter a question, which the book miraculously answers.

But lectures, bah,useless.