This is not going to land me in Cory Arcangel’s “Sorry I haven’t posted -Inspiring Apologies From Today’s World Wide Web”… but December through February have been madly busy and it’s hard to get back into the habit of writing when that’s not your natural impulse.
January and February saw one of my boldest experiments using digital technology in the service of teaching, and I will blog about my experience in the next couple of posts (honest). With a combination of lecture videos and digital pub quizzes, I had a go at making lecture flipping work for an undergraduate class of 500 students.
My motivation to try this experiment came from a number of places. The idea of the flipped classroom is probably familiar enough. Activities traditionally done in the classroom and at home are flipped, such that students first encounter new concepts in private study with the help of specially prepared materials and often a form of lecture video. This knowledge is then applied in a collaborative way in the classroom, often via “real-world” problem-solving exercises. Having heard of successful applications of this approach in an educational conference, it immediately made sense to me. The format of university lectures has not changed for centuries. My memory of sitting in lectures is mainly one of defining the territory- most Chemistry textbooks were vastly overstuffed, so it was essential to get a feeling for how deep the professor would dig into the material. If memory serves, the actual learning happened at home rather than in the lecture theatre, listening to the god-like professors at ungodly hours of the day (yes, we did actually have 8am starts back then- unthinkable now…) If we assume that everyone has an optimal pace and an optimal time for learning, it seems unlikely that the broadcast medium of the lecture is “just right” for more than a handful of students. It also doesn’t allow for active learning, unless you count adding notes to lecture handouts as active.
Another inspiration was Eric Mazur’s concept of peer teaching, a variation of active learning that seems to work even in very large classes and fosters a shift from rote memorization to conceptual understanding. Watching the students in the video (from about 54:25) interact to discuss their understanding is a joy and something I wanted for my lectures. To be sure, these are Harvard Pre-Med students, so our students might be marginally less driven, but there’s no reason to think that peer discussions of real-world problem sets wouldn’t benefit their learning too.
So, more in the next couple of posts!