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Jonathan Scott

Research & Innovation in Pedagogic Science, Cardiff University

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How might we extend the pedagogical benefits of a site like the Khan Academy to Higher Education?

I feel there is a somewhat clear pathway for the application of internet learning using platforms like the Khan Academy in schools worldwide. I do however find it difficult to imagine how we would apply these ideas to higher education, particularly where higher levels of meta-cognition are required. How do you think this could be applied to more difficult analysis and synthesis of complex ideas? If more elements are required that could enable this to work, then what are they? Would higher education even benefit from such a system?

All ideas are welcome!

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  • MM Byrd

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    Mar 12 2011: I think "flipping of the classroom" can be applied in higher education environment also. Face-to-face time between professors and students will then shift towards Q&A, discussions, or some type of participant-centered activities to analyze and synthesize complex ideas that were presented in the video lecture. It's similar to reading before showing up for class. Now, students can read, watch video, and then come to class to make sense of it all with the peers as the professor facilitates the process of learning.
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    Mar 12 2011: Hi Jonathan. The point I find most salient in Khan's presentation is the concept of "flipping" the classroom, so that students' first contact with new material happens on their own time, and where the classroom becomes a place to focus on problem-solving and other higher-level cognitive activities instead of mere information transfer. Videos or no, inverted classrooms work wonderfully well, and are definitely applicable to higher ed.

    As an example, I'll offer some short video clips of the class I teach at Bellingham Technical College, on the subject of industrial automation. Here, my principal pedagogical focus is coaching students to become proficient self-directed learners and problem-solvers. Students are assigned readings and problem sets which they must complete before class begins, then once inside class we work in groups to fine-tune their solutions and explore *why* those solutions work:

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=iamHI48ldBY

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWAY00LI50c

    The benefit's I've seen of teaching this way are legion: students improve in finding appropriate information on their own, the amount of class time required to teach any particular subject goes way down, student engagement during class is extraordinarily high, the job of teaching becomes far more interesting for the instructor, test and quiz scores improve, and the teacher is better able to devote time to students needing extra help.

    Critical ingredients I've found to making an inverted classroom work include first and foremost having good-quality source material for students to research outside of class. You also need a large set of relevant problems for students to discuss, deliberate, and propose solutions for. Instructors must also be well-versed in their subject(s), and discipline themselves to let students make mistakes and experiment with ideas on their own.

    I would encourage those watching Khan's presentation to look past the technology and focus instead on the structure.
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    Mar 11 2011: Things I'd like to be added to Khan Academy are
    a better database classification by profession and practical tasks, so that particular actions were tied with knowledge they require.
    lessons on visual art, music, dancing, sports, games, programming, languages, humor, creativity, learning, storytelling.
    universal subjects correspondence so that learning one discipline vividly shown how it helps in other.

    also make learning look more like a game http://www.ted.com/talks/tom_chatfield_7_ways_games_reward_the_brain.html
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    Mar 10 2011: Institutions, like Academia, do not act in the best interests of the public at large or the people within them, often simply because they continue to operate out of the habits of the past. That said, I think there are enough conscious, well-intentioned people within academia who see that the gains to everyone from getting rid of the artificial scarcity of having too few educated people with degrees are greater than the benefits to the individuals.

    So I guess my contribution to this idea is that it shouldn't just be learning that we're disseminating, but also testing. First, because testing consolidates learning:http://www.livescience.com/8804-kids-tests-learn.html
    (maybe because we've evolved for millions of years to learn by doing?)

    Second, because a big part of the value of a degree is that it signals competency to society at large. If the actual competency can be acquired more cheaply in terms of time/money cost, and the means to acquire the mastery/expertise can be created at zero marginal cost, then charging more than what people can afford to pay just so they can get a stamp of approval from an institution is just wrong. The present degree system deprives poor people of hope, first of all. And it also limits intellectual competition by insulating academics from having to compete with everyone else.

    So maybe we should require institutions to allow the same degree to be obtained by anyone who can demonstrate mastery. This should definitely apply to technical degrees and licensing generally.

    The same should probably apply to humanities degrees, which are mostly just status symbols, and so necessarily overly expensive and wasteful. Academia will never admit this.

    One of the terrible things about capitalism is that if you have expertise other people don't, you can sell your abilities to them, but you have no financial incentive to help them get that expertise. If they say it must take x amount of time/money to acquire expertise, they're lying.
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    Mar 10 2011: Perhaps content creation, re-mixing and curation could be the aforementioned required elements? Application virtualization as well as increasingly capable flash/java/html5 web apps could make for a very powerful learning environment in this respect.

    Another consideration...even if an adequate system was put together, how do we begin to incorporate this into institutions with largely immutable pedagogical habits?
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      Mar 12 2011: Within every institution you will find forward-thinking individuals willing to experiment with new approaches. Locate these people and give them the resources they need to innovate!

      Disruptive changes like this rarely take hold when coming from "above." Empowering the front-line workers (teachers) to innovate and explore is more practical and effective. Even then, though, the "immutable habits" of the institution at large are always difficult to change. So much momentum, so much investment in the past, so little incentive to take risk.