Saturday, July 20, 2013

What happens when the MOOCS invade high school?

Is this the high school of the future? (photo by Victor Lima on Flickr)
I just got done reading another article about MOOCS - these are Massive Open Online Courses. Think MIT Open Course Ware. Universities are now putting up masses of content free on the web. You can download lectures on iTunes and listen to the best teachers in the world whatever your subject. This has now been taken to a new level with people publishing courses that actually include assessment and a full sequence of instruction. Some see this as the future of university education with the scale of the courses solving many of the expense problems of providing individual instructors. Others are terrified and are seeing the end of teaching as we know it. I wonder what this is going to look like when it starts impacting on high schools. Read on for a list of possibilities:
  1. Better Content for Differentiating upwards. I've already used some of this MOOC content in this way. Last year I was teaching an independent study unit for Year 12 English students and it is nice to be able to point them to a curated set of resources from a source you know is unimpeachable. The issue here is that the content is not really tailored to the level of high school students. Whilst we had one Year 12 student this year who wanted to quote Goethe, Sir Walter Scott and T.S. Elliot in her Hamlet research essay this isn't really a common occurrence. Still it's nice to able to freely admit that there is more knowledge out there than what the teacher has in her head and to be able to send students out in search of it. 
  2. Flipping the Classroom. I know a lot of maths teachers are doing this already. There are short instructional videos for maths available from places like Khan Academy and MathsOnline. You have students go home and learn a new technique and then spend class time workshopping issues with their understanding. I haven't taught maths in a little while so I haven't really used this stuff much. I haven't seen anyone doing it the humanities. I think the problem here for us would be the depth and difficulty of the kind of material we'd be likely to use as English teachers. We'd need to first teach the students the skills to be able to use this material effectively. 
  3. Kids going off on their own. These materials make it possible for students to learn what they want to learn at an incredible level of depth. When the kid playing Minecraft on his Education Revolution laptop up the back of the classroom is actually building a functioning computer from first principles are we supposed to be angry or elated? This stuff is beautiful but we are terrible at encouraging it and providing time for it within the context of a school. 
  4. Teachers getting replaced by robots. When this stuff is good enough, and targetted at high school kids is there a day in the future where the kids look at me and say "What have you got to offer?". It's a truth mostly universally acknowledged that schools are built around an outdated factory model from about 1907. Perhaps this is the technology that finally explodes that factory and releases the children out into the wild. I'll certainly be looking out for a rise in homeschooling as students leak from our classrooms onto the internet. That would be a cool way to be done out of a job. 


  1. YOU'RE BACK!! Thank goodness. I like your non-panicked approach to this topic and do love an online ed resource myself. However I think proliferation of content won't result in the extinction of educators. I think it could reshape the teacher's role though - focussing their expertise on critical thinking and evaluation skills rather than expecting them to be the oracle of all knowledge. Good thing? Yes. Teaching kids how to fish.

  2. The difficulty is when kids don't know what they don't know, or don't acknowledge the usefulness of what I want them to learn (skills especially). I already get backchat when I discuss themes in Hamlet and my list doesn't match the list on sparksnotes. How much worse will that be when the source is Harvard university? How do we deal effectively with contested knowledge? How do we send students towards contested knowledge (which is worthwhile and leads to real thinking) and away from the easy answers that are becoming more available to them.

  3. Khan (not Kahn)Academy has linked assessment and can track how much you are using it. I found another Maths guy in Australia and one in England doing similar, just without the exercises. I am trying the flipped learning for my class to give them the extra time needed for BSSS hours

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