Tag Archives: education

The Flipped Classroom And The Role Of Expectations

3 Apr

In 2005-2006, I was enrolled in a master’s program at Stanford University School of Education. The method most professors used seemed different from what I was used to and expecting. The usual classroom drill involves teachers being the “sage on the stage” instead of being a “guide on the side”. Unprepared students sit through the class listening, watching, and learning concepts for the first time. Most of what they learn is forgotten the same day or the next day. Later, when they read the books or do their homework, the content seems new, and they start from scratch. Valuable time spent in the classroom with a knowledgeable teacher is lost.

Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom
In the last few years, the concept of a flipped classroom has been gaining momentum. Instead of a teacher explaining the concepts, students learn the concepts, mainly by watching online videos, before coming to the classroom. They are fully prepared with the basic knowledge, ready to learn higher-level concepts and engage in fruitful discussions with the teacher and their classmates. Khan Academy, edX, Coursera, Udacity, and other MOOCs are making themselves valuable for a flipped classroom. On Bloom’s taxonomy, the students have already completed the “knowledge” and “comprehension” (and in some cases “application”) levels, and they are now prepared to develop higher-order thinking skills with “analysis”, “synthesis”, and “evaluation”.

My professors at Stanford asked us to do several things in different courses each week in addition to quarter-long team-based projects:

  • Read research papers, 60 -80 pages a week.
  • Form a team and work on a presentation that solves an existing problem in a novel way.
  • Write a critique of each paper on a discussion forum and read and comment on at least two of other students’ critiques.
  • Read one or two chapters of a book and discuss in the class.
  • Prepare a short PowerPoint presentation, and upload to a forum. If picked, make a presentation to the class.
  • Work as a team on an ongoing real-world project applying the concepts learned, and discuss in class.
  • Write papers.

The common theme that emerges is reading research papers, writing about it, and applying the learning to real-world projects, every week, all before coming to the classroom. And sharing one’s own perspectives and participating in engaging discussions in the classroom. One of my friends at Stanford actually was not happy about spending a huge amount of money and not getting lectured by the professors. The rest of us were fine with the way we were taught though. The world’s best professors and researchers in the field of education must know better.

And it all happened because the professors had set the expectations quite high and they expected us to work hard and come to the class prepared. And we made sure we met their expextations.

Having worked in higher education for a few years now, it all started making sense when I repeatedly heard complaints from instructors that their students don’t come to the class prepared and they don’t read their books. The instructors firmly believe that their students don’t want to study so there is no point in asking them to prepare before coming to the class. I think this is a misconception.

I believe that the method employed by my professors can be used with any set of students. The instructors need to set expectations that the students have to read books, articles, or other papers and write a brief summary/analysis, do a multiple-choice quiz, or watch online videos before they come to the class. If the expectations are high, the students would aim higher.

Related readings
What Is The Flipped Classroom Model And Why Is It Amazing?
Flipping the classroom
The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Con


Designing Videos For Learning

22 Jun

Thomas Edison, in 1913, had predicted:

“Books will soon be obsolete in the public schools. Scholars will be instructed through the eye. It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years.”

It never happened. Books are still in widespread use though the format is slowly and gradually moving from print to digital. The “motion picture” or videos are being used for at least a decade for education, but no significant impact has been reported thereby preventing their mainstream adoption. The Khan Academy, thanks to Bill Gates, has achieved an unprecedented fame for its video-based learning platform. Many startups (Kno, Inkling) and established companies are using videos to enrich their eBooks, but are the videos really having an impact on students’ learning?

It’s said that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a thousand pictures (or a million words). Is it true? Not always. Why not? Because a video has to be designed in such a way as to convey the meaning of the words in an efficient and effective manner, and it has to engage the viewer. There are some guidelines that can be followed to design videos for educational settings.

  1. The first few seconds of the video are the most important moments to gain students’ attention. An AdAge research on YouTube showed that about 20% viewers abandon the video in the first 10 seconds, 33% in 30 seconds, and as much as 60% within 2 minutes.
  2. The video should not be more than 2 minutes long.
  3. The video must engage students by generating curiosity and gaining attention and motivating them to watch other videos or read the chapter to learn more. The video should raise questions that are answered in the chapter.
  4. A video at the beginning of a chapter doesn’t have to directly deal with the contents of the chapter. However, it should be relevant to the chapter at a high level.
  5. The content of the video should focus on the learning outcome.
  6. What are the topics that engage students? Relevance to their lives is very important, something that they feel strongly about.
  7. Smartphone, iPad, sports, student loan, music, movies, and Facebook are some of the topics that engage students.
  8. Politics, laptops, books, economy, and workplace are some of the topics that do not engage students.
  9. The video should show something interesting, unusual, surprising, or shocking things, people, or events.
  10. The best option is to show something that evokes emotions such as excitement, happiness, optimism, inspiration, or sadness.
  11. The audio voice over in the video should sound enthusiastic and conversational.
  12. The video should also raise questions that directly or indirectly relate to the contents of the chapter – Why did a particular team win or lose? How did your favorite music band come up with a great song? How many friends can you have in the real world? Which is the happiest country in the world and why? Why do gas prices go up in summer? What are the new high-growth careers?
  13. If the video doesn’t answer these questions, the students will feel compelled to read the chapter to find the answers.
  14. The video may be followed by a few questions to make sure the students watched and understood the video.

Suggested Readings
The Evolution of Classroom Technology
It is not television anymore: Designing digital video for learning and assessment

Engagement And Motivation

1 Jun

Here’s a true story. An online game on biology for middle school kids was developed by people holding PhD degrees in biological sciences and affiliated with Stanford University. The game shows a patient lying on a hospital bed, and the kids have to answer questions correctly to improve the health of the patient. If their answers are wrong, the patient’s condition deteriorates, and multiple wrong answers leads to the patient’s death. The interactive game provides challenge, engagement, and learning opportunity. The kids are engaged with playing the game, they are having fun, and they are motivated to answer the questions. Engagement and motivation are what every educator wants to see in children. What could possible go wrong? But something did …

The students were engaged and motivated, but they were “motivated to play the game”, and not “motivated to learn”. They were having more fun when the patient was dying (funny animations) than when the patient was getting better. Apparently, engagement does not always lead to an increase in motivation to learn.

Use of iPads in schools may be leading to similar results. Children are engaged with their shiny new devices, but are they learning more? We’ll have to wait and see if long term studies prove tablets’ effects on learning.

When a child is interested in something (ex: dinosaurs, video games) or has a positive attitude toward a subject area (ex: physics, history), he wants to do more  with it and learn more about it. It leads to an intrinsic motivation to learn so the child visits a dinosaur museum or reads a science experiments book. If the museum or the book’s contents manage to grab his attention, he is hooked, or “engaged”. If the book is hard to understand, the interest and, therefore, engagement goes down. If the content is relevant to his life and challenging just enough, he continues. Instructional methods, such as examples, practice, and feedback are important, but only when they engage the child.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation (reward or punishment) would most likely force the children to study. They probably would not be interested in learning, but if the content and instructional methods are engaging, it might generate intrinsic motivation leading to further engagement.

I think the first step toward making our children great learners is getting them interested in and developing a positive attitude toward a subject area. Parents and teachers have the biggest role to play here. And then employing instructional methods based on sound instructional  design principles and educational research findings. Intrinsic motivation leads to engagement. Extrinsic motivation such as forcing the children to study might make some of them aim for good grades, but they would not be learning for the long term. Being a “tiger mom” might help too, but it’s not for the weak-hearted parents and would not work for most of the kids.

You study hard, you get good grades. It’s a simple logic. Unfortunately, the reward of good grades doesn’t motivate or engage students or even grown-ups. And it’s sad that educators and administrators responsible for teaching our kids do not understand this.

Suggested Readings
Engagement Versus Motivation
Why Steve Jobs Would Have Loved Digital Learning

Why Motivation Works … And When

15 May

There are two types of motivations:

Intrinsic motivation: comes from within oneself and leads to a person doing more of something for the joy of it, without being much influenced by the outcome. As they say – The journey is the reward. Intrinsic motivation always leads to engagement. When people are intrinsically motivated, their engagement with an activity increases, which leads to further and prolonged engagement that requires sustaining. In the absence of sustained engagement, motivation would go down quickly. In a typical classroom, the students start losing interest after about ten minutes. Extrapolating the same theory to online courses, I’d say people need to be re-engaged every ten minutes or so. When people are motivated, they want to do more of that activity because they find it challenging, interesting, funny, prestigious, intellectual, or it satisfies some other visceral need.

Extrinsic motivation: is triggered by external factors (both positive and negative), usually called rewards and punishment by education professionals; for example, promising a new laptop or a vacation to a kid if she gets an A in a test, or threatening to lock down the video game if she doesn’t get an A. Both approaches might work in the short term. The kid will try her best to get an A, but not try her best to learn the subject matter. The end result is now more important than the effort and learning. This approach doesn’t work in the long term. And in the absence of a reward or punishment, she might not try to get an A. This pretty much explains the current state of our education system.

So why does every school and organization dangle a carrot or show a stick to motivate people? Because it has been the conventional wisdom for hundreds of years. A century ago, during the industrial revolution, the assembly line production became very popular. People didn’t need to think much. They just needed to do the same thing again and again. When they were paid more money, their productivity increased. And thus was born the convention that incentives increase productivity, which is true in cases where people don’t need to use their brain.

However, in today’s knowledge economy, creativity and innovation are the key to being competitive. In tasks that require cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and reasoning, incentives work in a way exactly the opposite of what’s expected. Thinking and creativity go down as has been proved in numerous research studies. So what works in today’s world? In short – meaning and purpose. Employees are engaged when they believe that they are doing meaningful work, that they have a purpose. Students are engaged when they believe that what they are learning is relevant to their lives or at least makes sense to them.

I got my bachelor’s degree in engineering without feeling, even for a moment, that it serves a meaning in my life. I switched careers. Then I got a master’s degree in education, and got very passionate about educating our kids the right way … by engaging them.

Related readings

Motivational Design
How to Stay Motivated
Grading: The Issue Is Not How But Why

Addressing Students’ Misconceptions With Videos

21 Mar

(Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Students, young and old, are not, as many would believe, blank slates. This has been the teaching model for thousands of years. A “sage” stands on the “stage”, lectures on one or more topics, and expects the students to learn everything. Unfortunately, as we’ve realized, this is not the best way to teach and does not resemble the best practices established by decades of research in the field of education.

Technology has long been considered the panacea for educating the young generation. It, too, has failed to generate enthusiasm among the young minds, though it’s a very useful medium if used the right way. Technology has never been the solution. Engagement, motivation, and pedagogy are more important factors. There are socioeconomic, family, and home atmosphere factors too but those are incredibly difficult to address.

In one of my earlier posts – The Changing Rules of Education – Reality or Hype? – I’d written about a number of factors why technology (mainly online videos) may not work for every student. I’d used Khan Academy as the example, but it applied to every education company. One factor was:

There is no social context with these videos. What if someone has a question? What if someone is perceiving the instruction in a different way than intended? How do we know if, when, and how much they are learning?

Today, I came across a YouTube video (embedded below) created by Derek Muller. He has a PhD in “Designing Effective Multimedia for Physics Education” (thesis). His research basically supports my argument above. I also read an article by Stanford University Mathematician, Dr. Keith Devlin. Both commented on Khan Academy’s science and math videos, respectively, and the reasons these videos are not the solution to the problems that plague our education system.

We look for heroes in society because we can’t be one ourselves. And when we find one, we cheer and support him that creates a hype that attracts more cheer. I’m not against Khan Academy or other technology-based education companies. They have real value for many students, but they are not going to be the saviors of the education system unless we stop believing the hype and focus on the real issues.

Suggested readings
www.veritasium.com videos on science education
Khan Academy: Good, Bad, or Ugly?
“The Audrey Test”: Or, What Should Every Techie Know About Education?

Driving Student Engagement

7 Feb

“My students don’t read books.” “My students don’t come to the class prepared for the lecture.” “I spend too much time covering the basics in the class.”

These are some of the laments of instructors in higher education. They are not happy that the students don’t take their studies seriously, spend too much time in non-productive extra-curricular activities, don’t pay attention in the class, or don’t come to the class at all. This is, somehow, not surprising.

We hear the word “student engagement” multiple times every day. Instructors complain that their students are not engaged in the classroom, and we, as publishers and developers of learning content and technology, try our best to develop products that engage the students. So what exactly is “engagement”? And what drives engagement? Is it a really important piece of the education puzzle? If yes, what are we doing about it? Are we doing things right? Are we doing the right things?

Learning is a time consuming and difficult process, and attention increases the effectiveness of learning. If we pay more attention, we’ll learn more because we are not distracted and our brains are focused on the actual learning. Engaging content gives us enjoyment. It makes us happy. However, the textbooks are overly monotonous and didactic.

Engagement is driven by motivation. The more motivated we are, the more engaged we will be in any activity, including learning.

There are two types of motivation:

  1. Intrinsic motivation – the one that comes from within oneself, without any external stimulus, whether positive (reward) or negative (punishment)
  2. Extrinsic motivation – comes as a response to a stimulus, either positive (reward) or negative (punishment)

Research conducted over the past decades have proven that extrinsic motivation doesn’t work over the long term. If employees are promised a monetary reward every time they reach a certain sales goal, it will not make them more productive. It will only make them do things to achieve the goal, by any means. If students are forced to take tests for grades, it will not make them read the book or learn from other sources. It will only make them look for shortcuts to get past the tests, by any means including cheating on the test.

This is not to say that rewards never work. They do, but only in certain situations. External rewards (and punishment) do sometimes work. If it’s a routine activity, such as assembling a computer or packing things in cartons, the higher the incentive, the more is the productivity. However, when it comes to creative endeavors that require critical thinking and reasoning, external rewards actually hamper creativity. Also, when the reward is unexpected, it makes people happy. But when the reward (good grades) is expected, it doesn’t motivate students to devote more time to studies and learning.

What motivates students?
Student motivation is affected by the same things that affect all of us. We all ask the question – what is in it for me? Why should I care? Good grades are certainly a motivating factor if it is correlated with a good starting job, a great career, more money, or more recognition. However, getting good grades requires studying and performing on tests and other instructor-graded activities. But the reward appears a long time in the future and is not readily apparent. The study materials, both print and digital, do not engage the students, resulting in low attention levels and poor learning.

Good content should ideally enhance learning. However, the medium of instruction plays an important role in learning. Print books have a lot of limitations. They are not interactive, they do not let people practice or give feedback, and they do not support multimedia elements. All of these factors can be effectively utilized along with good content and instructional design to increase student motivation. We should stop being didactic and start taking into account the factors that engage college students and the factors that distract or discourage students from engaging with their studies. So what are those factors?

Related readings
Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation

Overhyping Apple’s iBooks Textbooks

23 Jan

Apple held it’s much hyped education event on January 19 in NYC. “Digital destruction of textbooks” and “Garageband for ebooks” were two of the many rumors floating around in the tech blogosphere. Apple announced a simple and easy-to-use tool for ebook creation and a simple distribution system through its iBooks store. The initial products are available only for the school market. Similar to Apple’s other integrated product offerings, will this e-textbook model succeed?

The Good

  • The price is the best part – only $15 for a textbook compared to the more common $75
  • Interactive (and possibly engaging) content
  • Easy-t0-use device (iPad) with a touchscreen that kids love
  • Easy to create an ebook using the iBooks Author and distribute an ebook
  • Ultra-portable, kids don’t have to carry heavy textbooks
  • Tens or even hundreds of books on one device
  • Internet connected for easy access to the Web

The Bad

  • Public schools buy books in volume and distribute them to the students. The average cost of a book is $75 that they use for about five years. A $15 ebook will be tied to individual student accounts, which means every year, the school has to pay $15 per ebook. The total cost in five years: $75. And an additional $500 for each iPad. Where are the savings? Our public school systems are in disarray. The budgets are cut every year, teachers and staff are laid off, the number of students per teacher increases. Do the schools have enough money for an upfront investment in iPads for every student?
  • Book publishers have been developing interactive ebooks for a few years now. Those ebooks can be used on any computer using a Web browser and are not tied to a single device from a single company. Making the same content available on an iPad instead of a laptop is not going to improve learning.
  • An iPad might increase engagement in the beginning, but once the novelty wears off, the kids will be more interested in playing Angry Birds. Pedagogy is more important than the device and this initiative doesn’t enhance the pedagogical value of the books.
  • The books can easily be created by anyone and distributed through the iBooks store. But schools don’t use books written by anyone. They want books from reputed authors and publishers. It will be a low-margin, high-volume game, and hyper-competitive as well. Creating an interactive ebook means investing more on developing multimedia content. High cost of creation and low margins. Will the publishers come along?
  • Nothing is more distracting than an internet connected device, which opens a portal to all kinds of information. Will the kids read the books or surf the Internet, play games, or visit Facebook? Learning is more influenced by people’s motivation than anything else. And the iPad cannot do anything to increase the kids’ motivation to learn. Today’s kids have a thousand other things to do than study, as indicated by the school and college dropout rates and falling behind of the US on PISA tests. The No Child Left Behind Act has made the situation worse.
  • The downloadable ebooks will take up about 1 GB each. Which means it can store only a limited number of books. Buying the higher-capacity iPads would cost even more. If the books are not downloaded, they will not always be available, given the state of our broadband connections.

The Ugly

  • Apple’s End User License Agreement (EULA) for iBooks states that the authors are free to provide the books on their Web site if its free. However, any ebook created with iBooks Author software that the author wants to sell can be sold only through the iBooks store. And Apple will set  the price and take a cut from the sale. The author works hard but apple limits the market. Apple is not working to improve education. The only things it wants to do is sell more iPads.
  • The books must be approved by Apple. This means any book can (and often will) be rejected by Apple for arbitrary and unexplained reasons. What if Apple doesn’t like the content in a history book? It will have the power to alter history. I wonder if schools will allow Apple to set their curriculum.
  • If the schools don’t have money to buy iPads for their students, can they make it mandatory for the parents to buy one for their kids? This would immediately lead to a class-action lawsuit against the school. Many people can’t afford an iPad, or in my and several other cases, will not be willing to buy one. How do you create equality in the classroom?
  • It’s morally irresponsible. A great book should not be the sole preserve of rich school districts. It might create a 1%-99% situation and increase inequality instead of bridging it.
  • A closed system will stifle innovation. An ebook that’s available to everyone on any device opens up a huge market that further incentivizes innovation.
  • One drop and the iPad is gone. Who replaces the iPad? The school or the parents?

Related Readings
iPad a solid education tool, study reports
Why the iPad Won’t Transform Education — Yet
The Unprecedented Audacity of the iBooks Author EULA
iPad Textbooks: Reality less revolutionary than hardware
Apple Textbook Controversy Isn’t About Books—It’s About Teaching