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Thread: 200,000 students per class

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    Default 200,000 students per class

    Inspired by the number of people that the Khan Academy's free video lectures reached, Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun put his own artificial intelligence class online and enrolled 160,000 students. After scrambling to accommodate so many pupils, he came away from the experience with a new vision of education so different that he says he "can't teach at Stanford again." Instead, he's starting an online university called Udacity. Thrun hopes to teach about 200,000 students per class — including grading exams and quizzes — in contrast to the mere hundreds taught at a brick-and-mortar university. The first two classes, starting February 20th, will teach students around the world to build a search engine or program a robotic car, and enrollment is free. You can catch a glimpse of what inspired Sebastian Thrun's career change in his presentation at DLD today.

    from http://www.theverge.com/web/2012/1/2...ine-university

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    It will be interesting to see if/how people such as Khan and Thrun monetize this approach to education. Options range from tuition to sponsorship to advertising to who knows what. At minimum, there's a hosting fee they might wish to recover, plus perhaps the value of their time, and that's before even thinking about the value of their curriculum.

    The Web is rife with free curricular content spanning preK, K-12, college, and graduate level course. This content ranges from single lessons to full subjects to entire years and beyond. One challenge is finding such curriculum that's effective.

    In theory, one thing that publishers (that is, traditional curriculum providers) bring to the table is the ability to create curriculum that's based on research and backed by efficacy results. This is particularly prevalent in K-12 publishing, but certainly not uniformly practiced. And that's not to say that other types of authors can't design effective curriculum, just that there's often a question mark. At the college level, it's not clear to me at all how curriculum is designed and tested.

    As content moves to quick printing and digitial environments, one of the advantages of the traditional publisher--the printing press--goes away. Others, such as large sales forces, remain, and the channel to the end-user is still important.

    From the publisher's perspective, there's long been a fear that the curriculum model will change. For companies such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson, K-12 revenues exceed $1B, and the vast majority of that revenue (90%+) is represented by traditional textbooks for the general education population. That revenue is clearly at risk.

    The bulk of my exposure to this part of the industry came between 2006 and 2008 when I was at Sopris West Educational Services (part of Cambium Learning). Sopris West, now more than 30 years old, started in the professional development and special education markets and morphed to include as the bulk of its business the sale of curricular products aimed at struggling students.

    One of the products that Sopris West carries is a reading assessment called DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills). What was interesting about this product was that schools could buy it from Sopris West ... or download it from the University of Oregon for free. A sizable fraction of schools appreciated how the paid product was packaged for ease of use. In addition, they quickly learned that having people use photocopiers to print was as or more expensive than buying the product. Still, a free alternative existed.

    Sopris West (and many others) also sold training for DIBELS. The Florida Department of Education, which purchased DIBELS from Sopris West, was the first that I saw to challenge the paid training model by creating their own training videos and delivering them (for free) to FL school districts. At the time, I wondered how long it would be before they or others created the assessments themselves--and next, the curriculum--and gave that away for free as well. Not too long thereafter, FL DOE did just that, creating their own early reading assessment.

    I'm not aware of any states having created curriculum yet, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if some have. The "losers" in such a model will likely be the authors, who will see ongoing royalties change to lower work for hire fees, and more so, the "middleman" publishers. There's nothing inherently wrong with these publishers going away, of course, but doing so would mark a fairly significant change. While this is a change that might help schools a bit with budget problems, the vast majority of what they spend is on teachers ... a model that may also be threatened with approaches like that of Khan, Thrun, and others.

    It's going to be fascinating to watch how technology changes how education takes place, from reading and math skill development software to content areas such as social studies and science to assessment to when and where education takes place and so much more. (If it's not obvious, the place to be in the education market is on the technology side--growth there will continue to be healthy for years to come even as the total spend on educational materials drops and drops and drops.)

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    Khan seems far more driven by the opportunity to radically improve education than on monetizing his product; his organization is a non-profit, for example. He clearly knows that nothing syndicates good ideas faster than capitalism; perhaps he'll focus on the methodology and core tools, leaving the distribution and deployment to others.

    It will be interesting to see what technology Thrun employs in his quest to attract and manage a class of 200,000 students, and what business model he chooses. I've never heard of him, but then I stopped following academic AI years ago. Had Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan had the ability to deliver courses online, I'd have signed up at $100/seat in a heartbeat.

    While online-enhanced lectures and collaboration (assuming that's what Thrun has in mind) work for college students and professionals with a solid educational foundation, Khan's thesis is that flipping the classroom is the more effective way to help preK-12 students establish that framework, maintaining the need for a low student-teacher ratio.

    Here's an update on Khan Academy by June Kronholz .

    Here's a timely warning from Robert X Cringely: Class Dismissed: Even Good Students Don't Always Want to Learn.

    The contrast between these two articles is remarkable: Observing a 5th grade math class using Khan, Kronholz excitedly reports that "The classroom buzzed with activity, and amazingly, all the buzz was about math" whereas Cringely's new hero Steve says of his Community College course "...around me all my peers had their laptops open. Were they taking notes electronically? No, every screen was either open to Facebook or to some online game."

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    I had a meeting with someone from the Newton Public Schools yesterday. While on another topic, and without being prompted, the shared their interest in "flipping the classroom," which they described as consuming information outside the classroom and sharing/acting upon it in the classroom. I found that to be a crisp way of explaining the idea.

    Robert X. Cringely! I'd completely forgotten about him--I used to read him in InfoWorld (I think) back in the 1990s. I'll be sure to put his blog (back) on my regular reading list.

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    More "massive class" news from Stanford.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I had a meeting with someone from the Newton Public Schools yesterday. While on another topic, and without being prompted, the shared their interest in "flipping the classroom," which they described as consuming information outside the classroom and sharing/acting upon it in the classroom. I found that to be a crisp way of explaining the idea.
    Besides enabling students to achieve mastery at their own pace, the "flipped classroom" approach results in classroom sessions that are collaborative and physically active, with the teacher and students helping students understand troublesome concepts. This approach replaces mind-numbing sedentary lectures with stimulating activity for all participants, activity that also teaches students how to work together, and that builds understanding and respect for teaching.

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    Cringely has posted an excellent followup. Note the reference to Stephenson's The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer in the comments.

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    Here's a discussion of Udacity's business model.

    A point made in this article harks back to a an earlier discussion on this board about the prospects of having companies contribute funding to our education system in order to gain access to top quality candidates:

    "And if Udacity does end up with millions of students, I should imagine that there are quite a lot of companies which would pay Udacity to be able to reach those students. Simply charging technology companies to put job opportunities in front of students with given grades and qualifications would probably generate quite hefty fees. So long as the education itself remains free, I don’t think that being a for-profit is in and of itself a bad thing."

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    Tom Friedman's take: Come the Revolution.

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    Default Will Massive Open Online courses change how we teach?

    By Fred G. Martin
    Communications of the ACM, Vol. 55 No. 8, Pages 26-28

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In the last decade, the Creative Commons philosophy of freely sharing information and the pervasiveness of the Internet have created many new opportunities for teaching and learning. MIT OpenCourseWare spearheaded the sharing of high-quality, university-level courses. While these materials were not originally designed for individuals engaged in self-study, approximately half of OCW's traffic is from these users.6 Recently the use of learning management systems (LMSs), such as the proprietary Blackboard or open-source Moodle software, has become ubiquitous.

    In typical use, LMSs support the structure of conventional courses in an online setting. Lectures and reading material are assigned, homework is scheduled, and discussions are facilitated at regular intervals. As in conventional coursework, classes are usually closed communities, with students registering (and paying) for credit-bearing coursework.

    One of the first initiatives to bring together open course philosophy and LMSs was David Cormier's "Massive Open Online Course," or MOOC. In his vision, "Although it may share in some of the conventions of an ordinary course, such as a predefined timeline and weekly topics for consideration, a MOOC generally carries no fees, no prerequisites other than Internet access and interest, no predefined expectations for participation, and no formal accreditation."9

    This idea—albeit in a more conventional course structure—exploded into the public consciousness with the massive open artificial intelligence (AI) course developed and conducted by Stanford faculty Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig last fall. Announced in the summer of 2011, the course received wide publicity, and attracted about 160,000 registered students by its launch in October 2011. Approximately 23,000 students completed the 10-week course.8 I was one of the 23,000—along with a cohort of 16 students, both graduate and undergraduate, from my home institution (the computer science department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell).

    Since the fall AI 2011 course, there has been much activity in this space. Thrun has set up a for-profit company, Udacity, to extend his initial work; Stanford and others are running courses using Coursera; MIT created MITx and is partnering with Harvard on edX; and there are other initiatives.4 The remainder of this column describes my experiences taking the fall 2011 course alongside my students and facilitating their learning. This is followed by some reflections. It seems likely this new breed of MOOCs will have impact on education at the university level, particularly for technical majors such as computer science.

    The Fall 2011 Stanford AI-Class.com

    The Stanford course consisted of weekly lectures—two or three 45-minute topics that were broken up into 15 or 20 short videos. Most of the individual videos had embedded questions (multiple-choice or fill-in-the-value). At the end of each mini-lesson, the video image transformed into a Web form where students fill in answers. Already logged in, the class server graded the students immediately. After submitting, students were shown an explanation video.

    The lectures themselves were inspired by Khan Academy's casual, teacher-sitting-by-your-side approach. Occasionally, Thrun and Norvig trained the camera at themselves, but the core content was conducted with the camera aimed at a sheet of paper, with Thrun or Norvig talking and writing in real time. I found this format relaxing and engaging; I liked seeing equations written out with verbal narration in sync.

    There were weekly problem sets with the same format. These homeworks tracked the lecture material closely. The course included a midterm and a final with the same format as the homework. If you worked through and understood the problems embedded in the lectures, the homework assignments were straightforward. The homework, midterm, and final each had hard deadlines. The server backend kept track of students' scores on the homework assignments, the midterm, and the final, which all counted toward the student's "grade"—a ranking within the active student cohort.

    On the Course

    Thrun and Norvig were strong teachers. They thought through excellent ways of explaining the ideas and quizzing the in-lecture comprehension checks. They often brought fun props or showed research projects in the video recordings.

    Thrun and Norvig were only a week or so ahead of the course delivery, and they paid close attention to students' progress. There was a lot of activity on the Web forums. They recorded several "office hours," where students submitted questions and voted on their favorite ones, and then they picked questions and answered them on camera. In this way, the course was like a typical class—it was not "canned." Thrun's and Norvig's enthusiasm was infectious. Collectively, the real-time nature of the experience made it a lot like a well-taught conventional course.

    My Role at UMass Lowell

    Students registered for my department's regular AI course, which requires a project. They knew when signing up that I expected them to complete both the Stanford course and a directed project. As mentioned earlier, I had 16 students. We met once weekly for a 75-minute session in a roundtable format. We talked about the Stanford material after each week's assignment was already due. Because of this, I did not have to present the course material in a lecture format. When we met, most of my students had worked through the lectures and the homework. So I did not have to explain things to students for the first time. Instead, we used in-class time for conversations about material that people found confusing or disagreed upon. We had some great discussions over the course of the semester.

    A similar approach was developed by Day and Foley in their HCI course at Georgia Tech.2 They recorded Web lectures, and then used classroom time for hands-on learning activities. Daphne Koller, a colleague of Thrun's at Stanford (and founder of Coursera), has called this "the flipped classroom." She reported higher-than-usual attendance in her Stanford courses taught this way: "We can focus precious classroom time on more interactive problem-solving activities that achieve deeper understanding—and foster creativity."7

    What Does it Mean?

    The success of the fall AI course and the bloom of new ones this spring and summer puts real pressure on conventional, lecture-and-test university instruction. Thrun is quoted in several reports as noting that attendance at his face-to-face AI course at Stanford in the fall dropped precipitously. From the 200 registered, after a few weeks, only 30 continued to attend.8 But this really speaks to the failure to have the in-person time deliver anything different from a lecture. In many ways, the carefully crafted online lectures, peppered with probing questions that are autograded for correctness and then explained further, are indeed an improvement over a conventional lecture.

    There are many initiatives to improve the quality of face-to-face time in lectures. When used creatively, clickers can be a valuable modification. But more fundamentally, active learning approaches hold much more promise.

    Robert Beichner has developed a classroom approach called "SCALE UP" for active learning in the classroom. His work started in physics education, but years of development and collaboration broadened it to many fields, including the sciences, engineering, and the humanities.5 In SCALE-UP, faculty engage students in a structured activities and problem-solving during classroom time. Students work in teams of three, and faculty mingle with them, engaging them in discussions. (The SCALE-UP acronym has had several meanings, including "Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs.")

    Eric Mazur, also from the physics education community, has developed a related approach that he calls "peer instruction," in which students work in small groups to answer questions posed in lectures. Like Beichner, Mazur is active in disseminating this method.

    However, dissemination and adoption are big challenges. These approaches require substantial new development of the problems and activities with which students are to be engaged in the classroom, and teachers must give up their carefully crafted lecture presentations.

    Also, teachers need to be protected from low student evaluation scores. Mazur and others have reported that students give lower evaluations in courses with active learning—even when the evidence shows they have learned more.1,3 Students have grown up with conventional lecture teaching, and just like anyone else, they are resistant to change.

    Beyond this, faculty must participate in these active learning approaches as learners, so they understand how to facilitate them as instructors. In my case, in my graduate training I learned how discussion-oriented seminar courses are conducted, so it was natural for me to facilitate the same with my small group of "flipped classroom" AI students.

    Conclusion

    When Thrun was promoting the fall 2011 online AI course, his Twitter feed included some bold claims: @aiclass: "Advanced students will complete the same homework and exams as Stanford students. So the courses will be equal in rigor."—September 28, 2011

    The fall 2011 course for matriculated Stanford students included programming assignments, and the online one did not. This was a clear shortcoming. But the new Udacity courses include programming. Most of my students got a lot out of the fall Stanford course—and our weekly discussion sections made a difference. But the weaker students struggled, and a few strong students were bored. This makes me wonder about the large-scale applicability of the MOOC format. We need to be able to support students who are still learning how to learn, and also challenge our best students. The MOOC concept does not even attempt to address the role of a small, research-oriented project-based course. When we individually mentor each student on his or her own ideas, we are doing something that can never be performed by an autograder.

    Part of the excitement around MOOCs is about their potential to change education's cost equation—put a great course online once, and run it unattended many times. But part of the fun of the fall AI course was that Thrun and Norvig were right there with us, and that we were a large cohort of students there with them.

    Thrun also asserted: @aiclass: "Amazing we can probably offer a Master's degree of Stanford quality for FREE. HOW COOL IS THAT?"—September 23, 2011

    As we know, the modern university is a much larger ecosystem than its collection of courses. Among many other things, students derive great value from being in close contact with their peers, participating in leadership opportunities across campus, and being part of our research labs. It may well be that this new breed of MOOC is a decent replacement for an average, large-sized lecture course. But this is a low bar.

    In our drive for efficiency, we must aspire to higher than this. At least, we can use MOOCs to create a successful flipped classroom. We can use our "precious classroom time" for meaningful conversations. As Mazur and Beicher have demonstrated, this can be done even in large lectures by having students work in small groups.

    At best, we can really add value, by being teachers. We can individually debug students' thinking, mentor them in project work, and honestly be enthusiastic when they excel.


    References

    1. Crouch, C.H. and Mazur, E. Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. Am. J. Phys. 69 (Sept. 2001).

    2. Day, J. and Foley, J. Evaluating a Web lecture intervention in a human-computer interaction course. IEEE Transactions on Education 49, 4 (Nov. 2006).

    3. Fagen, A.P., Crouch, C.H., and Mazur, E. Peer instruction: Results from a range of classrooms. The Physics Teacher 40 (2002).

    4. Fox, A. and Patterson, D. Crossing the software education chasm. Commun. ACM 55, 5 (May 2012), 44–49.

    5. Gaffney, J.D.H. et al. Scaling up education reform. Journal of College Science Teaching 37, 5 (May/June 2008), 48–53.

    6. Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007.

    7. Koller, D. Death knell for the lecture: Technology as a passport to personalized education. New York Times (Dec. 5, 2011).

    8. Lewin, T. Instruction for masses knocks down campus walls. New York Times (Mar. 4, 2012).

    9. McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G., and Cormier D. The MOOC Model for Digital Practice. 2010; http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/MOOC_Final.pdf.

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