As out student-created graduate class on 21st Century Learning heads into a unit on McLuhan, you all might want to check out this recent account of a MIT conference on online learning. Sadly, I wasn’t able to participate because of my NHC duties, but it sounds like it was a stirring and important conversation. And many of the findings on how we actually learn confirm the student-created methods of this course. Good thing we’re turning our course content into a “field guide” that others will be able to learn from!
While I have problems with the conventional structure of many of the courses offered by Coursera and other venues because they replicate the least exciting aspects of classroom teaching (all the things we are trying to disrupt in #Duke21C with a student-driven pedagogy, peer assessment, and active public learning), I am very pleased that this conference highlighted some of the new research on the deficiencies of the lecture as a model.
Previous research suggested that the lecture was very poor for retention, engagement, or applicability but that, in a great (rare, not average but great) lecture, the one thing that lectures do accomplish is a kind of emotional bonding with the experience–or what one might call an “inspirational” affect. One gripe I have with the online “Sage on the Stage” model is you massively scale all the mediocre parts of lecture-style teaching and then leave out the one part of a (great, again, emphasis on great) face-to-face lecture: this fact that we humans like to enjoy and be inspired together. Witness attendance at movies (v. watching at home), sporting events, church, or, indeed, TED talks.
Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard who champions audience-enhanced, peer-directed learning (he sometimes uses clickers and informal learning and group problem solving even in groups of several hundred), gave a paper on current research on just how poor the usual lecture class is for actual learning. Here’s a link to the story: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2013/edx-summit-0306.html
And a great summary of his argument, with a PDF to the larger study (and I need to add that I am more skeptical about the physiological measures for TV watching than for a routine classroom lecture–previous research I’ve read suggests that responses to TV can be quite intense; this feels a bit like a set up and a cheap shot that embeds within it contempt for TV watching as a form without distinguishing between the kind of TV watching. I do not need a censor to tell I am wracked with emotion watching The Wire and terrorized in fear by the one and only episode of Lost that I managed–and full of laughter and appreciation with Louis CK or Modern Family at its best). Similarly, we have to distinguish between dull lectures and great ones–but even the great ones (better research indicates, done by some of my ethnographer friends, for example, after TED talks) are far better at inspiration than retention, applicability, etc etc.
” One [of the conference themes] was a questioning of the pedagogical efficiency of lectures. During the first panel, “Blended Models of Learning: Bringing Online to On-Campus,” Eric Mazur, a professor of physics at Harvard, cited a study (see PDF) by MIT professor of media arts and sciences Rosalind Picard and her students in which subjects were fitted with wristbands that measured skin conductance as an index of the “arousal associated with emotion, cognition and attention.” Mazur presented a figure from the Picard group’s paper showing wrist-sensor readings for a single MIT student over the course of week. The sensor recorded regular, strong spikes during periods of study, lab work and homework, but the readout flatlined during two activities: attending class and watching TV.”