Showing posts with label Online Instruction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Online Instruction. Show all posts

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Minerva: The University of the Future?

Critics of contemporary North American education often claim that it’s driven by flavor-of- the-month thinking. Not surprisingly, personalized learning has been described by these same critics as the latest educational fad. As followers or occasional readers of this blog realize, we take exception to such criticism, as personalized learning is at the heart of our educational approach here at Greenwood.

Consequently, it was refreshing to read this month’s cover story in The Atlantic, “The Future of College?” and learn that other educators are not content with the preservation of the status quo. The article by Graeme Wood, a graduate of Harvard, focuses on Minerva, a small for-profit university that has established itself in San Francisco. What makes Minerva unique is its use of an online learning platform, which uses technology to re-imagine the traditional university lectures and seminar.

The strength of the online platform is that it forces students to engage actively and be accountable for their learning. By using this technology, professors can simultaneously communicate with each student. Unlike the traditional seminar, there is no opportunity to sit back and let others do the work, nor is there the typical stand-and-deliver lecture in which the professor does almost all the work. Professors use the online platform to group students to debate topics and gauge learning through pop quizzes. After experiencing one of these 45-minute seminars, which Wood describes as “good, but exhausting,” he observes that Minerva’s seminar platform “will challenge professors to stop thinking they’re using technology just because they lecture with PowerPoint.”

One other benefit of this approach is that it forces professors to think more carefully about how they teach. Rather than seeing teaching as an art and a science, the leaders of Minerva believe teaching is “a science and a science.” In other words, effective teaching is dependent upon student learning. Lesson design is rooted in research related to retention and engagement. Ongoing assessment, which is a key element of personalized learning, is used to group students effectively and to support remediation.

Though Minerva makes no claims about personalizing education, their efforts at reinventing the traditional university model bear some similarities. Rather than educating large numbers of students in a cost-effective manner (which is why lecture halls exist at universities), they instead are focused intently on individual learning. The entrepreneurs of Minerva are also leveraging technology to make this possible.

It is reassuring to know that our use of blended learning and other aspects of personalized learning at Greenwood are preparing our students to be able adapt successfully to the inevitable changes that are happening or will soon take place in the world of higher education.

Allan Hardy

Friday, 12 October 2012

Remaking Higher Education in Canada

It was encouraging to see a recent special series in the Globe & Mail dedicated to the reinvention of higher education in Canada. The thesis of the series is that we need to “remake our one-size-fits-all universities for a more flexible, fast-paced future.” As those of you who have visited this blog over the past year are aware, we have described how we are engaging in a similar reinvention here at Greenwood.

The lead article in this series provides some historical context about the evolution of the university model and its deep-rooted reliance on the lecture-hall model of instruction. However, the combined impact of a rapid increase in the number of students attending university and the reduction in government funding for these institutions has led to a sharp increase in class size, thus creating a less personal experience for students.

Some observers, like Robert Mendenhall, founder of Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, advocate for a greater use of online instruction. Mendenhall believes that online instruction is the most effective way to attend to the varied pace and style of student learning.  Clearly, he has vested interest in this approach. Not surprisingly, a number of university professors have utilized various op-ed pages over the past few months criticizing the online approach, claiming that it undermines the essential premise of a liberal arts education.

At Greenwood, we believe there is an integrated solution to this debate. We believe that blended learning, an approach which combines the best of face-to-face learning with technology, is the best way to ease the transition from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more personalized solution. Certainly, it puts students at the center of learning, which as many commentators in the Globe & Mail series point out, should be the central purpose of any re-invention of the current educational system.

Allan Hardy

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Personalizing Content-Heavy Courses

The curricula for science and math courses often contain so much content that teachers find it difficult to complete the course by the end of the school year. They sometimes feel pressured to adopt a lecture-based approach and remove the activities that students enjoy such as labs, discussions, demonstrations or cooperative learning structures.

Even more challenging than covering all the required topics is finding a way to personalize this type of program.

A typical science lesson plan will often involve the introduction of several new topics, a few example problems, an activity and individual practice. However, introducing new topics regularly requires more time than planned as students have questions or a concept needs to be explained in multiple ways. When this happens, the lesson plan is adjusted in the moment and may result in shortened activities or some topics receiving less explanation.

By removing the classroom lecture and making resources available outside of the classroom, the fear of not completing a lesson in the time allotted is eliminated. In-class time can be used for discovery labs (where the concept is introduced and presented through a lab), games and group activities. Both class time and outside of class time can be used to work through interactive multi-media and videos.

This approach has some similarities to the flipped classroom, as videos are utilized. However the role of the video differs with the technique I am describing as videos may simply act as an additional or optional resource to support another activity. This gives students considerable freedom with how and when they learn, which is not inherent to the flipped classroom.

This approach does require students to develop a specific skill set such as organizational skills, time management and the ability to be self-directed in their learning. However, by not having to sit through a one-size-fits-all presentation and having more control over their learning, students are able to progress more quickly through the material as the program is streamlined to fit their needs.

For example, when a student has a question, they receive individual help from the teacher - but if another student knows the answer to the question they simply continue working.

The additional class time freed up by removing the lecture can be used to further personalize any program. In our chemistry class, we have divided the course into two sections: core content (which covers our curriculum) and contract activities (which allow students to explore topics of interest to them).

Some examples of the contract activities undertaken by students include conducting additional labs, performing class demonstrations, development of a video or other classroom resource, an independent study on a new chemistry topic, completing additional problem sets and analyzing the chemistry of cooking.

Kyle Acres
Science Teacher