May 11, 2012

Moving Your Lectures to the Cloud

I've been slowly working toward moving my Calculus class online over the last several weeks in anticipation for next year's crop. Through this process I've learned some very valuable lessons that I think teachers at large should consider when doing the same.

Don't record in-class lectures
Yes, this is contrary to what your first impulse is when you think about moving your class online. However, I think it's important to consider the following:

  1. Long classroom lectures are ineffective at engaging students, this has been routinely proven time and time again. Recording ineffective lectures and putting them online does nothing to increase the effectiveness of that lecture. Students who were bored in person will be bored at home. 
  2. Recorded in-class lectures alienate the online student. When in the presence of a speaker a student is captivated and can interact with the lesson. The online student cannot interact with the speaker and is never the focus of the speaker. 

On rare occasion I'll find recorded lectures in front of an audience that captivate me online (TED talks are good examples). But even these lectures leave me with a sense of "I wish I was there in that room to appreciate this even more." MIT Open Course Ware system is ineffective in driving student engagement precisely for this purpose; their videos are not made-for-the-web, but are rather made-for-the-room and adapted to the web. The online student feels distant and not connected. I don't think this is a good solution for the future of online learning. 

Record short videos with the online student as your audience
Videos are important and will be your tool to teaching online, but you MUST make the online student your audience. If you have a long lecture prepared, break it up in chunks of 1-2 minute clips and create an outline for the lecture on your webpage with each topic referencing a youtube link. I've found that students are more likely to work their way though a logical sequence of short videos than a very long, continuous lecture.

Check out Udacity's youtube channel. Now, these videos are embedded to their website and are followed by built-in quizzes, but you could make video lectures broken into 1-2 minute bits like this yourself with no problem. This format is infinitely more accessible than MIT's hour-long-recorded-lecture paradigm. 

Interact with the online student
This is actually not as hard as you might first imagine. At the end of each video clip (or every-so-many video clips) ask the online student to perform some task on the computer. After several weeks of the course, post videos which respond to questions students have raised in email, in-class, or forum situations. This will give the students the feeling that they are actually in contact with the person behind the internet producing their instruction (which in fact they are!)

At Udacity the instructors will post weekly "office hours" and answer questions they see in the forum. You could think of one or two stumbling blocks your kids have encountered and insert a video about those things as the course goes on. 

Provide students an opportunity to collaborate
This could be as simple as asking students to leave comments on youtube (by the way, you can restrict access to videos on youtube to certain users), holding "twitter" office hours, or monitoring a facebook group. The important thing here is to provide online an analogous tool to in-class discussion. Students will have questions about your lessons - let them talk about it!

Above everything, go for it
Students are consuming the internet more than any generation before; it makes little sense to resist that. Rather, take advantage of this trend by producing quality online content for your course which can be accessed online. Don't be fooled though; bad instruction plus technology does not yield better instruction!


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