29C3 - Version 1.9


Jörn Loviscach
Sebastian Wernicke
Day Day 4 - 2012-12-30
Room Saal 6
Start time 11:30
Duration 01:00
ID 5280
Event type Lecture
Language used for presentation English

Millions of Lessons Learned on Electronic Napkins

On the way to free(ing) education

Massive open online courses are the vogue of the season when it comes to discussing the future of university-level education. But we’re only starting to see what education at this scope means and how it can be supported best, in terms of both didactics and technology. This talk is an inside report by two instructors who have delved into the experience of teaching large audiences online. We share the lessons that we have learned: how to spark student interest, how to put intuition before formal theories, how to streamline production and much more. And we point out what needs to be done to truly democratize education from the viewpoint of both the students and the instructors.

Teaching, in particular at university level, hasn't really changed much for hundreds of years. There's a teacher lecturing to a room full of students, but very few of them being engaged. The past few years have seen a number of initiatives that try to bring education online, usually even free of charge, through online videos and mostly also through interactive elements. Prominent examples include Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera, and edX. Well-known in the US, the former two have also had a massive echo in the German press.

Some of these initiatives adopt a new format where the professor is more tutoring students rather than lecturing them: The classes aren't just filmed lectures, they more resemble a friend explaining something by scribbling on a napkin in a personal conversation. Interactive quizzes keep every single student engaged rather than just the two students in the front row who were paying attention in the regular classroom. Advocates and optimists associate a lot of hopes and promises with this new format:

  • “Every student can learn at his or her own pace.”
  • “Everybody can learn from the best teachers – for free.”
  • “Education is freed of bureaucracy and bad old habits.”
  • “If done right, students can be engaged on a 1:1 basis instead of 1:30 – or 1:500 in an introductory medicine class.”
  • "Education could become a data-driven science instead of an opinion-driven art." Salman Khan, the founder of Khan academy, even goes so far as to say that technology, ironically, will humanize the classroom.

The response from students to this new format is apparently massive, in particular as this type of education becomes accessible and interesting for many new audiences, ranging from pupils in the U.S. to students in the developing world. Lectures on Khan Academy have been watched hundreds of millions of times. The most popular courses at Udacity, for example, were only launched at the beginning of this year and have already seen hundreds of thousands of students complete full university-level courses with an individual time-investment of 80+ hours.

But does that mean that all the above promises are fulfilled? In this talk, we share our experiences gathered from electronic lectures and more interactive forms online-supported university teaching and from teaching two courses at Udacity, one of the initiatives mentioned above aiming to provide free online education at a university level. We'll investigate if the optimists are right:

  • Does learning online really work? And for whom?
  • Is this just a new hype similar to edutainment and to interactive CD-ROMs – or is something different happening?
  • Is this new format a chance to move beyond memorization, toward understanding – possibly even toward critical thinking? Or does this format even threaten deep learning?

We’ll look at didactic methods and at technology to mitigate the issues found, in particular building on the years' worth of experiments conducted by one of us (J. L.).

Ultimately, if this format catches on, it is bound to lead to a new level of openness in education: Just as with Wikipedia and YouTube, everybody will soon be able to create a course, not just a collection of electronic lectures. But can everyone be a teacher? Should everyone be a teacher? And who gets to decide? Technology might well turn education upside down.

Archived page - Impressum/Datenschutz