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Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Announcements: "Flip classroom"

You might be wondering: So what's Princeton University's own course looking like now? The lectures are in video, so does it still make sense to repeat the same lecture in the classroom? While that'll save me a lot of time to focus on my research lab, it probably isn't the right way to go forward.

That's why I'm flipping the classroom. If you haven't seen Khan Academy and the TED talk by Khan, you should check those out. Inspiring. Khan was mostly talking about elementary school to high school, but the same principle applies to college even better: Students watch the lectures before coming to the classroom, and then in the classroom they and the their teacher ask each other questions.

Flipping a classroom does not diminish classroom time, it enhances it. One-way open-loop lecturing into a hall filled with facebook-checking students: how is that a good use of classroom time? Let's leave one-way lecturing to YouTube, and save classroom time for interactions.

So, in ELE/COS 381 (the code for this course at Princeton University), we ask all Princeton students to watch lecture videos before coming to each class session. Then in class we

1. Debate and discuss
2. Demo and experiment
3. Guest lecture

We'll record some of the demos and guest lectures (by 20 outstanding guest lecturers from industry, academia, government), subject to their consent, and share with you too.

Now this means a whole lot of additional teaching load to a professor (and I have to keep persuading myself that I'm not spending excessive amount of time on teaching innovations), but it's going to make engineering classroom much more meaningful to the students.

You know these emails are long. So let's keep going.

We asked "what SHOULD a classroom be like?" Now how about the question "what IS open online education?" Some factors are obvious:

1. Course material access (lecture video, slides, quizzes..., by the way, the videos will be captioned on coursera)

2. Social learning environment (this is the only way it can scale up, each new student is also a new potential mini-TA)

3. Assessment (quizzes, homeworks, exams...)

Now, "learning" and "certification" are two distinct concepts. At this point, Princeton is trying out open online education's "learning" part, but not the "certification" part. I'm using GCH and Kudos to provide incentives, but they are not certificates. Please still do the homeworks and check against the standard solutions that we'll provide. We trust you to self-report your scores (more on this on Wed) so that we can better understand how to personalize education and adjust our teaching style. There's no reason not to tell us the true scores, since there's no pass/fail/certificate at stake anyway.

(This whole certification thing is actually a big debate point in this movement: the consistency, authenticity, privacy, and profit-seeking issues associated with certification. And you may have heard that some of these platforms are partnering with Pearson to provide real certification exams, but you got to pay to take those exams.)

4. Interaction with teaching staff (e.g., the TAs and myself are pouring a lot of time every day and night into this course, although we may not be able to reply to every email/tweet/FB upate/forum threads). Maybe virtual, maybe in-person meetup (check under Events or Groups, and you should be able to sign up directly).

So when we "start" tomorrow, it's actually interesting to reflect on what "start" means for an online education experience. Nor is it always clear what the "end" of a course means. The videos, homework, social learning environment will all be there, more like on-demand movies than channelized TV.

In terms of platforms, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter are already open for this course. Starting tomorrow (clock is set by US east coast time), coursera video/forum and network20q wiki/blog will also be open.

Of course having a schedule and some deadlines help move things along. And for this semester, we synchronize the schedule with the Princeton University offering of the course. For example, teaching staff will focus on Lecture 0 and 1 this week on the coursera forum.

That's it for this email. And for all the pre-launch announcements.

We have been shooting you one email every day this past week, leading up to the Sept. 17 "launch". That's tomorrow.

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