September 17, 2013

The changing face of Learning!

LearningFor years, the teachers were given the role of collector of information and disseminating that information through a sage-on-a-stage classroom. However, with the rapid increase in the reach of Internet, information is now freely and easily accessible. The classroom is no longer the single source of information, thought it remains a very important one.

Voice of the Student:

Students are clearly telling us educators, that the time in class should not be spent providing them information that they can easily get elsewhere. The class hours could be more effectively used by helping them in resolving the doubts that they encountered while consuming information elsewhere (typically online), evaluate and analyze alternate views that they have encountered and finally help them connect the dots of information in creating a better understanding of a concept (information to knowledge) – addressing loosely the analysis, evaluation, creation phases of Bloom’s taxonomy. This is the basic idea of a flipped classroom.

Popular Channels of Information Consumption:

We also know that students are increasingly getting their information online – 85% online,  15% from TV and even less from print. Which begs the question, why do we deliver the classroom information through a face-to-face channel, and not deliver this classroom information through an online channel, dovetailing with the other sources of information?

Creation – The First Mile Problem:

This does not seem like much of a problem,  till we encounter challenges that educators across the board has in converting their classrooms to a digital format. Teachers across the world from Australia to Singapore to India to US while validating the efficacy of eLearning felt challenged by the task of creation of engaging content. Two issues come to mind:

  • The word “engaging” is very important in this context.  It is often difficult to gain students attention in class, and that task is made considerably more difficult when it has to be done remotely at home. The personality and the passion of the educator(so important to captivate students in a class) needs to be carried through in the digital experience.
  • Educators are paid to teach, and do not have the TIME, SKILL and MONEY to create content. They needed a tool which allows them to create engaging professional content using their existing teaching skills and workflow, has a very fast create-to-publish time and use their current hardware. Without something like that this process is dead in the water.

A situation that is getting corrected everyday as we speak through tools like Adobe Presenter Video Creator which is making the process of professional looking video content easy, affordable and fast.

Engaging In Isolation:

It is well-established that different students  consume information at different rates. Flipped classroom facilitates this by allowing each student to go over all the information, including classroom lessons at their own pace. The rewind button of the online content will be used heavily by the students as they navigate through the digital material. This along with own-place, own-time means we will have students consuming content in a very asynchronous manner.

But, how do we know which students have consumed the lesson content and to what extent, understood the same and to what extend? Because without that information the planning of the classroom activities remains ad-hoc and apriori – similar to the traditional classroom model, where  students got the same standardized homework in the traditional model.

Classroom content which was previously consumed in a social context, will now need to be consumed in relative isolation at home. If a student did not understand something, he can raise a hand and get a clarification from a teacher or get it resolved through a quick chat with a fellow student. And most self-respecting teachers could get a sense in a traditional class, looking into the eyes of the students whether  a particular line of explanation in getting through to the students or whether an alternate explanation is called for. The teacher also benefits from these Q&A as she gets an understanding which parts of the teaching is working, and which parts need tweaking. She also gets a sense as to who is understanding what.

In a flipped classroom that sense of connection is lost. While this isolation from the perspective of student is well-documented, there is a significant loss from the point of view of a teacher. In the case of a student, this “isolation” means that the student may not be able to get access to intervention at the point of need. So gaps in understanding, early on in a digital lesson may lead to increasing gaps of understanding of concepts down the road, leading to frustration and eventual drop out from the digital lesson. Students need to study in their own time and pace in an asynchronous manner, but needs their doubts clarified at the speed of a synchronous process. Can technology help without making the teacher review the “question board” 24*7 ? “Ask a Question” feature in adobe Presenter content attempts to solve this interesting problem. Over a couple of semesters, it is possible that every possible question would be in the question bank for a lesson, and using Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques we should be able to deliver those answers to the students at synchronous-speed.

Take the example of a digital lesson “Expansion OF Gases” in a Physics course. A specific lesson talks about two concepts, Boyle’s Law and Charles’ Law. It is entirely possible that the we will have 4 segments of students – A) Understood both laws B) Understood Boyle’s but not Charles’ C) Understood Charles’ but not Boyle’s D) Have issues with both laws. To really harvest the benefits of the flipped model, it is really important that the teacher know who belongs to which group, and plan 4 sets of activities for these 4 segments. Teachers plan either a quiz at the end of a digital lesson or a quiz once they come to class to gain some insight into this segmentation. I personally do not like the second option, as there is no way to avoid the feeling that the segmentation happened as  result of the quiz – nobody wants to be known a member of the last segment. Nonetheless, our “Ask a Question” actually provides richer data layer over the MCQ-type quiz, besides providing a platform for intervention.

Getting Collaboration Going:

For intervention to work, the students must participate. While, a student with doubt has an interest to post a question, it is important that the student with the answer actually takes time to answer to them. But, mere encouragement and facilitation will not help, we need to incentivize the later to participate and share. This where the participation Index becomes very useful.

A request from one of the demonstration to change the “Ask A Question” to “Post a comment/question” is very interesting. Students in the first segment may not have a need to post a question, but it would be good to incentivize them to post their comment or share relevant thought and information with their fellow students.

While we do a great job in the creation part of the story, our journey has started with the other two. Our solutions need to deliver on the needs identified above, or else someone else will. Video-tracking, introduction of the concept of “lesson concepts” tying them with quiz results , use predictive modeling to evaluate the importance of different concepts in the final result are challenges that we must plan immediately.

Posted by tridibroyc6:23 PM