Using video as proxy for a class discussion

A case classroom at the Ross School of Business

I am going to be offering a blended version of a class that I have offered the last three years as a pure case discussion class (which I have discussed a bit before). I don’t currently know what percentage will be face-to-face versus online, but I’m guessing that over half (and maybe up to 3/4) will be online. I need to come up with a way to move the class online while still offering the benefits of a case class.


I do believe that students benefit in several ways from a case class:

  • Being put on the spot to discuss a situation with a professor,
  • Have a give-and-take with the professor (and other students),
  • Hearing the opinions (often contradictory) of other students,
  • Defending his/her position against challenges.

This is all very useful to these undergraduates, and are some of the major benefits of the case discussion method.


A recent change for this class is that I am moving the bulk of my class online. The second is that I am hoping that the class continues to grow so that I have more than the 60-75 students that I have had the previous three offerings. The question becomes how can many students continue to get the benefits of the case discussion method (or, at least, many of them) while taking the class online?


When teaching a case class, 95-100% of the class speaks at least once every 3 hour class period. I certainly didn’t see how I could carry this off over video. I was stumped for a while but I had several insights the other day.

  • I realized that no one student ever spoke more than four times during a class, and almost never more than 2-3 total minutes. Add that up over the semester and it’s entirely possible that no one student ever spoke for more than 30 minutes over an entire semester, with most totaling more like 15-20 minutes. (These are rough estimates.)
  • Many, many students want to say something nearly every time I ask a question, and feel like they don’t get to make the points that they want to make most of the time.
  • Two of the benefits listed above come from listening to other students, forming opinions based on that conversation, and forming defenses of his/her position against those other opinions.

Proposed solution

I am still working through the details, but I am thinking that every week we could have a process that goes something like the following.

Google+ Hangout
  1. Groups of three randomly-chosen students would be assigned to read two cases and answer some simple questions about them.
  2. The answers of all students would be made public, and a new set of more in-depth and analytic questions would be made public.
  3. A pre-assigned set of 4-8 students would prepare for an online discussion about those questions, plus lingering questions from the first set of questions. If we had 2 cases per week, then this would give up to (2x8x12) 192 students per semester the chance to go through this experience. Or, if I had 60 students, then each student could have 3 chances per semester.
  4. The rest of the students would only have to think about those questions, but in no way have to prepare.
  5. I could have a conversation over Google+ Hangout (especially OnAir) with that set of of 4-8 students in which we go over their thoughts about the second set of questions (plus other stuff that might come up). I assume that each Hangout would last about 30 minutes.
  6. The rest of the students in the class could watch the Hangout live or watch it recorded on YouTube.
  7. One third of the students in the class other than the students involved in the Hangout would be responsible for submitting a write-up related to the second set of questions. Another third would be responsible for critiquing a couple of those responses. The final third would be responsible for commenting on the responses. Authors would be able to respond to the critiques and comments as they see fit.


Looking back at the benefits that I list at the beginning, I believe that this new structure does a pretty reasonable job of delivering those benefits. Students are put on the spot in the Hangouts. They have exchanges with the professor and students in the Hangouts. Those students plus the audience gets to hear the opinions of those students. Certainly, the students in the video have to defend their positions (from the students and the professor). Additionally, in the follow-up writing assignment, the students in the writing and commenting roles are all learning to formulate arguments for a position and defend an argument against attacks.

Like I said, I am still working through the details but I think I have come up with a promising proposal. Has anyone tried anything like this? If so, please share your experiences with me through twitter or the comments below. Thanks!

The course Web site is integral to the success of blended or online learning

Sakai Project


Here at UM we use CTools, an implementation of Sakai. While this is a perfectly reasonable CMS, it was built to support a class from a different era, one in which the professor is the center of learning and students are simply the recipients of knowledge.

Recently in “Technology turbocharges a new educational philosophy” I wrote how technology extends the capabilities and influence of professors and students while also supporting different communication patterns. It also makes it possible to support individualized learning. In this article I want to bring these soaring ideas down to earth, if just a little bit, and discuss what they have to do with the course Web site.

And I'm good with my hands, too.

A practical guy

I’m a very practical guy; I was a practical student and I am a practical professor. When I was a student I didn’t do very much classwork unless I thought I would get something out of it. What was that something? Either I thought I would learn something that was particularly interesting to me or I thought it would help me get a better grade. And not too much in-between. I definitely didn’t do work because it’s supposed to be interesting, or everyone else likes learning about this stuff, or it’s not so hard so just do it.

I have taken that attitude with me in my role as professor. I try to make it clear why what I’m teaching is really interesting to me (so that they know that there is someone in the world who likes this stuff) and why I think it should be interesting to them (usually tied to their academic development [smallest chance of connecting with them], career, or personal life). You might expect me to say here and I also make it clear how the student can get a good grade. Actually, I generally don’t. I don’t really do this on purpose. I point in the general direction of what is good versus what is bad, but I don’t want to set an artificially low ceiling and say this is good enough to get an “A”. I have found that my students are amazingly good at exceeding any bar that I put up for them. So…I let them set the bar. I let them define their range of activities, input, and insights. They explore their talents, and I help them refine their approach. The results have most often been exemplary.

Students as teachers

You might be wondering what this all has to do with a course Web site. Here’s the connection. I believe that:

  • Communication among students is important.
  • Learning is good, whether or not the source of the learning is the professor or a student.
  • Students can provide excellent instruction to other students (and the professor, if he’ll listen).
  • Timely and meaningful feedback is a powerful way of learning and improving.
  • Students can be good at providing feedback to each other.
  • Students grow and learn just as much when they are in the role of teacher as when they are in the role of learner.

Recall from above that I personally didn’t like doing something (unless I really liked it) unless I thought it would help me get a better grade. Well, suppose that students think this way. (Not too unreasonable, in my opinion.) In order to get them to take on the above roles, they need to believe (in the absence of truly liking the material) that what they are doing will help them get a better grade. The question now becomes how do we make the connection between them taking on the above roles and them getting a better grade.

The reimagined course Web site

The course Web site has to support, track, and enable measurement of all of these new activities. If the activity isn’t being supported, tracked, or measured, then it isn’t being integrated into the student’s grade. And if it doesn’t count towards the grade, then the student isn’t doing it. Thus, the Web site has to fill all three of these roles or it’t not doing all that it can to support students and professors as they make their way through the semester.

The Web site is no longer simply about an inbox that the student puts assignments in so that the professor can grade it. It’s no longer about the students sending messages to the faculty member and vice versa.

So, what does the course Web site need to do?

  • Provide a way for students to submit a draft, for other students to critique the draft, for the author to evaluate the critiques. Each stage needs to be captured and attributed to each individual student.
  • Provide a way for students to submit a final version, for other students to respond to the document, for the author to respond to those responses, and so on. And for everyone to evaluate the quality of the arguments made.
  • Provide a way for students to submit teaching materials.
  • Provide a way for students to add to existing teaching materials.
  • Provide a way for students to evaluate the specific contributions (messages, critiques, responses, materials) of students whenever and wherever they might see them. And to give credit to students who take the time to provide the evaluations themselves!

It is definitely the case (for now) that each professor is going to want different reports for different classes. Each professor will want to emphasize different tasks and different roles for the students to play during the semester. This exploration is necessary in order to move to a new model of learning that is pretty far away from our current model. I believe it has the potential to be a better model, but we definitely have a lot of thinking, planning, experimenting, and doing ahead of us.


Next steps

This isn’t simply a next generation of a traditional scholastic CMS. This is more like a community support/building Web site combined with a media publishing site. I actually don’t think it would be that difficult to build such a site with Drupal. It seems like all the tools (modules) are already there just waiting to be put together in the right way. I’m in the process of building it right now, so I guess we’ll see one way or the other.

If you’re interested in this project (or know of a related one that I apparently don’t know about), please let me know via twitter or the comments.

Encouraging student participation face-to-face or online

Death to clickers

I am generally not one for lecturing in front of a class of students; as they say, “talking ain’t teaching.” But that doesn’t mean that I don’t do it periodically. And when I do, I like to get the students involved. The tools for electronically supporting this process have progressed a long way past clickers. Students can use their cell phones, tablets, or laptops, and now they can do a lot more than just answer true/false or multiple choice questions. And their interfaces that they have to use are pretty good, too.

Here are a few of the newer possibilities and their stronger features.



LectureTools is a whole lecture delivery system. It allows students to respond to multiple types of questions, ask questions, and flag a slide as confusing. I have written a previous post about using LectureTools to broadcast a class. This system can definitely be used for face-to-face, online, or blended setups. It is quite seamless from the professor’s point of view.

One surprising feature that I like is that what is shown on the student’s screen is controlled by the student; that is, when the professor clicks to go to the next slide, the student has to click on his or her own computer to coordinate with the change. This, at least to a little extent, keeps the student out of “TV mode” and makes him or her pay attention.



Socrative is a student input system that allows students to participate via smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Within the flow of the class, a professor can introduce a student-paced or professor-paced quiz. In addition to the standard T/F and multiple choice questions, Socrative can integrate short open-ended text questions. The professor can track who responded in what way to what questions; a report about responses can be delivered via downloaded Excel file. I can easily see using this for pre- and post-tests for a specific class or topic. Students can also be grouped into teams so that if any one student on a team gets the question right, the whole team is considered to have gotten it right.

They maintain a useful blog about possible uses for this in the classroom. They also have a good introductory video that shows how students and teachers use the system.


Poll Everywhere

PollEverywhere is a super powerful, flexible, and scalable system. In short, it allows T/F, multiple choice and free text questions to be asked; students can respond via phone, tablet, or web; responses can be displayed live in a presentation or on a Web page. They also have a page with a series of videos explaining the features of their voting system. It has a wide range of different pricing plans and is used by many large organizations. This page describes its many and varied options for asking questions and gathering responses.



TodaysMeet is a different type of system that allows students to make comments, ask questions, and answer questions online during a presentation. Every person in the “virtual room” can see the comments as they are made. This room is a private channel (i.e., not public like Twitter) that enables the audience to communicate via what’s known as the back channel. If your audience isn’t twitter-literate, or if you want to keep the comments from public exposure, then you should definitely look into this system.


So, that’s a nice selection of tools for your class. Many times students don’t want to raise their hands in class, but they still have questions. Why not make it easier for them to ask questions? Also, it can definitely be somewhat cumbersome and slow to ask a question of the class and then tally all the responses; some of these tools make that process dead simple. Other times, you want to have an idea of what your students know walking into a class (or before they walk out); these tools make that process painless as well.

There’s something here for almost everybody. Which one is for you?

Assessment tools for a flipped or blended class

I am designing a class that I am going to teach next year. It is going to have elements of being flipped or simply blended. In any case, I am looking into different ways in which I can assess student learning that goes on during semester, whether in the classroom or out.

Several tools are available that provide assessment for different types of situations:

  • TED Ed is appropriate for assessing a student’s comprehension of a specific video that the student has watched outside of class. It explicitly recognized that many of the questions that you might raise will not be computer graded.
  • Flubaroo is a tool that is well-integrated with Google Docs; it would be easy to administer a test using this tool at a school that uses Google Apps for Education.
  • QuizStar is appropriate for any sort of out-of-class testing in which the questions need to include more than text; it also provides a good tool for tracking and managing grades.
  • Quipper is for a situation in which the teacher is not interested in tracking student grades but is more interested in motivating the students to learn a topic.

Below I provide more details on each of these and links to useful resources.


TED Ed allows a teacher to create an online quiz around any video that is on YouTube. You can create a Quick Quiz that tests basic factual and content questions based on the video. You can also define Think short answer questions for students. Finally, you can define a set of readings and resources in the Dig Deeper section.


Flubaroo is a free tool, integrated with Google Forms. You write a quiz in Google Forms, and this extracts the information from the form, emails the results back to the students, and stores the results for the teacher to see. It has a tremendous user guide that really lays out what needs to be done.

The questions in the quiz can be either multiple choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank. The program generates an Excel worksheet that contains individual results and summary reports and graphs. It also has an option that enables it to email students their grades (plus individual question results).


QuizStar is a free tool that helps teachers create online quizzes, administer them to students, automatically grade those quizzes, and shows the results online. Each question can have graphics and videos attached to them as necessary


Quipper allows a professor to create a quiz that can be taken on most smartphones. The creator of the quiz is not able to get any information about how people perform on the quiz or on specific questions. The image at left (click on it to see a larger version) shows the question creation form. As you can see, it’s fairly straight-forward, allowing just multiple choice questions (or, of course, true/false).

  • Help page: this contains a lot of information about creating quizzes.
  • This app is currently available on both the iOS and Android platforms.

Trials of a new video producer

Yes, I am interested in technology, and I have quite a (long) history with it. Yes, I am interested in the use of technology in education, and I also have quite a (okay, again, long) history with it. And, yes, I am going to teach (the enrollment gods be willing) a class on living and learning digitally to business students that will be mostly online and use lots of video.

But I have not ever actually published a video using iMovie. Oops. That might be what’s referred to as a “hole in the resume.”

It is true that I have previously created a video promoting an earlier version of this class and created another series of videos explaining how to edit wikidot pages (with over 13k views! I had no idea). However, both of these were created (in ways that I only vaguely recall) with software that was cheap, difficult to use, and not that robust. I’m not even sure that I could get it to work again.

Given my plans to teach this class in this manner, I recently decided to actually test whether or not I could put together a video. I know there are other professors out there who are intrigued by where technology is going but are uncertain about the move from classroom to video, so I figured I would document these early, tentative steps. I know how to speak in front of a classroom, no problem. Delivering content over video is more complicated. There’s the content itself (essentially the same, though structured differently), then the delivery of the content into a camera (very, very different), and the assembling and publishing of that digital content. I wanted to see for myself, before I got too far into this process, just how hard or easy it is to complete that last step. If that step is too hard to take, then I would have to change my whole concept of what it means to deliver this type of class.

The following two videos are the result of that first test. The first simply tests my abilities to use iMovie to create a movie, and the second shows the current state of my production facility and the hardware I use.

Initial tests of hardware and software

This is really raw video. (Please don’t judge! I’m not performing or using my stage voice or anything. This is “testing, testing, 1, 2, 3.”) This video is the result of using my MacBook Pro, an iSight camera (since my laptop’s camera stopped working a couple of years ago), iMovie, a microphone, and a document camera. (More on all of this below.) Here is the movie; my comments follow.

  • I published this in “Large” format (808×540), suitable for Apple TV, computer, and YouTube. I will have to think about this as I go along. For an iPhone, it recommends publishing at 480×320; however, some loss of detail would certainly occur.
  • It is simply a matter of checking a box to have iMovie automatically insert a standard transition between scenes. I used “cross-fade.”
  • Inserting a title (at the beginning), subtitles (before scenes), and credits (if needed at the end) couldn’t be easier. Drag and drop, then type. Done.
  • At 0:05 when I first appear on screen: so many things to see here.
    • I have a ceiling light to the left of my head; I am going to have to change the alignment of the camera to get that to go away.
    • The lighting on my face is a bit dark, and shadows are being cast across my face. (Later, I will address this.) It is hard to get this right because I have a light directly above my desk (a different ceiling light) and none in front of me. Who has a light shining on his face (but only direct light!)? Well, certainly, not me. What I had to do (for this shot; I do more later) was put a desk lamp next to the camera and behind the laptop and point it away from me so that it reflected off the wall.
    • So far I like working with this microphone. It is comfortable, the ear microphone is sufficient, and the sound pick-up seems acceptable. I wanted to get a microphone because I plan on lecturing to a camera in front of a whiteboard and I figured I would need one at that time since I would be turning my head periodically away from the camera. (I will test this setup soon.)
  • At 0:21 the first subtitle screen appears. (I’m sure this has another name.) Again, this was super simple.
  • 0:26: I recorded a second short clip in order to test how to handle the insertion of a second video into the movie and how transitions work. I need to remember to have at least 1 second of me staring at the camera at the beginning and ending of a clip in order to provide time for the transition to work effectively. The transitions take about 0.5 seconds off the end of a clip and blend it into the beginning of the next clip so you don’t want to be doing or saying anything at that time.
  • 0:37: I wanted to record a clip and then insert a voice-over to see how it works. I recorded the whole clip, and then I went back and used iMovie to record the audio for the middle segment. The audio for the voice-over came out different than it did for the rest of the segment. I have no idea why because I used the same hardware and software for everything. I still have to investigate this.
  • At 0:53 the doc-cam makes its appearance. This was kinda tricky to setup — actually, not really to setup but more specifically to understand how to setup — but it is easy to use.
    • I will have to use a more bold-faced pen if I am going to write on paper.
    • Though the doc-cam has an audio pick-up, I set up the software to use the head mic that I had on.
    • The doc-cam appears to be much more comfortable working in a Windows environment than a Mac environment. The software that is made available for the Mac is explicitly in beta (and it should be). It works, but it has some glitches. The major one is that it records the video in one orientation, with the top of the video being away from the base and the bottom of the video being closest to the base. The software has a button that is supposed to rotate the video, but it doesn’t really work. This ends up not being a problem (at least as far as I can tell for now) because, after the movie is saved, QuickTime can rotate the movie into the correct orientation.
    • I was hoping to use this camera during live feeds, but it doesn’t appear to be a standard video feed. I can’t get my Mac to choose it as a standard video input so I can’t switch to it — it only works when it is being controlled by its own software. I will have to continue investigating this, and possibly look for another product if I can’t figure it out.
    • Regardless of all the above, I think the image is pretty clear and doesn’t have a lot of the ghosting and blurring that older, school-supplied doc-cams seem to always have. I definitely would feel comfortable using this hardware in a pre-recorded segment.
  • 1:14: I wanted to test if the selection of audio input made a difference in the recording. I definitely like the change in audio quality from the first segment (computer microphone) to this one (Bluetooth mic).

All in all, it was a successful test. I still have some issues to investigate, but it all seemed doable. Now I just have to work on my on-camera personality.

Production facility

This video shows my “production facility” (aka my basement). The video itself is somewhat of a technical test as well, since it is a combination of video off my iSight and off my first-generation Flip. (I recently was saddened to discover that my Flip HD has died after barely being used. Got a new battery and it didn’t revive it. That’s really too bad since I haven’t seen anything that approaches its combination of cost, simplicity, and quality output. I am going to have to keep my eyes open.)

Here’s a list of what I discuss in the video:

Apple MacBook Pro
This is a 15″ early 2008 model with 4GB of RAM running Lion 10.7.4. The main problem is that it is nearly out of hard disk space (as well as the aforementioned camera issue). I will be replacing this soon. For now it serves it purpose quite well.
I was fairly amazed by how easy it was to get started with this. I watched their introductory video, but that’s the extent of the training that I underwent before I did any of this. I’m sure that Final Cut Pro X is a wonderful piece of software, and I’m also guessing that I will start pining for it at some time; however, for now I can see being satisfied with iMovie and its focus on ease-of-use.
Plantronics Voyager 520
This is a noise-canceling, Bluetooth, over-the-ear microphone. It is comfortable and seems to provide adequate sound quality. I will have to monitor this over time but this looks like it was a good investment.
Luna Interactive Projection Camera
As I said before, the Mac software that comes with this is a bit iffy, but the hardware seems solid. I especially like the quality of the video that it produces. The only thing that bothers me is the difficulty using it in a streaming video.
Flip Video (original)
This is a solid, reliable piece of hardware. As long as it doesn’t fail (seem Flip HD experience above), I expect that I will use this for a while. I next need to test it out in a room with me in front of a whiteboard. This will have to wait for future explorations (and associated posts).


I’m a long-time Mac user beginning with the Mac SE/30 in 1989 all the way through my current iPad, MacBook Pro, and MacPro 12-core tower with 16GB of RAM (I run lots of computation-intensive simulations in my research) so I am comfortable working in that environment. However, “working in that environment” and “producing videos” are two completely different things.

I now have the confidence to invest a bit more time in learning specific techniques and approaches to teaching on video. I didn’t feel the urge to investigate these before because I didn’t have the confidence that I would be able to carry it off. Now I do.

I hope these videos and this blog post gives you confidence that you could get into the video production business, at least on a part-time basis. Do you have any help for me on the next steps on my learning journey? Let me know if you do.

Introducing “Living & Learning Digitally”

In the fall 2012 semester at Michigan’s Ross School of Business I will be teaching “BIT330 Web-based information resources” (its official name) or, more accurately, “Living & learning digitally.” A current, evolving draft of the course Web site is now available, but understand that it may change significantly in some aspects in the next couple months.


This 3-credit course will be taught MW4-5:30pm. What is usually thought of as the course content will be delivered mostly online via pre-recorded video. Students will only infrequently need to actually attend class at the “official” time. I will have frequent online office hours via Google Hangouts. There will be lots of twitter usage, and participation will be related to the timely completion of online activities. This course has no prerequisites and is available for sophomores, juniors, & seniors.

For a previous incarnation of this course, I made this video. I will update this soon, but you should get the general idea of the class from it.

Purpose of the course

The course goal is to prepare the student for living and learning digitally. This preparation will be accomplished through academic study as well as through usage of current technologies, both well-known and under-appreciated. The following are the four basic threads running through the course:

Communicating digitally (via text)
  • One-on-one: Perhaps not shockingly, at times we will use email to communicate among ourselves. I will also use twitter to reach you, and I expect you will do the same (if you don’t already).
  • One-to-many broadcast: I will use the course twitter account to send out announcements to the class. I expect that everyone will follow this account during the semester and will (probably) have the messages forwarded to their phones.
  • Publishing: We will experience three different modes of publishing in this course:
    • Blog: As part of your weekly learning tasks, you will write short blog entries to the public course blog site. The audience for this blog is an informed college student who is not taking this course.
    • Wiki: Each student in the class will create an analyst’s report on some business & industry. The information will be gathered through the application of all the tools (see below) that we will learn about during the semester. Students will get to choose their own topic (with some guidance provided by the instructor). The creation of this report is something that student’s in previous years have enjoyed immensely.
    • Digital book: An addition to the course this year will be the production of a digital book by all the students in the class. While this has been done in other UM classes (most effectively and famously by Brian Coppola in the introductory chemistry class), I do not believe that it has been done at Ross (or in other business schools, though I may be mistaken about that). Each student will contribute a chapter (with guidance from the professor and others in the class) to a book that the public at large can use as a reference to the most powerful tools and interesting applications that we learn about in the class. We will publish the book at the end of the semester, with each contributing student getting appropriate credit. The goal will be that future classes will add to & revise this book as appropriate.
Communicating digitally (via video)
Part of the purpose of this class is to get students comfortable with communicating via video in a relatively structured setting. I believe that current UM students will be asked to go through lots of similar learning activities in the future either in their jobs or in more advanced studies. I also believe that getting a head-start on learning how to succeed in such an experience will be valuable for these students.

  • One-on-one: We will use Google Hangouts for one-on-one tutoring and Q&A when it is needed.
  • One-to-many: I will create short videos that introduce the topics and tools that we will discuss in the class; these will be lectures in front of a board, lectures with PowerPoint slides, basic talking head, or me demonstrating a Web-based (or iPad-based) tool. These videos will be available on YouTube.
  • Within small groups: For office hours I plan on being available on Google Hangout a couple of times during the week. Right now, up to 10 people can hangout together; until we find out differently, I assume that this will be sufficient.
Finding information
Almost all of the above describes the process of the class. The topic of study for the class will be how to find information on the Web that is relevant and appropriate to the question at hand (specifically, business, industry, or career related). Of course, learning to be a competent user of Google’s search tools will be a starting point for the class; however, dozens (if not hundreds) of other tools are available that a well-informed student should be aware of and know how to use. (See the list below for the types of tools that we will be investigating.)
Managing information
The big problem in search used to be finding informational resources that were relevant to a particular query. That is no longer the case. Now the problem is finding too many such resources. Today’s student (and manager) must learn how to narrow down his/her search for more appropriate information and, then, know how to manage the seemingly never-ending flow of information to his/her desktop. During the course of the semester, students will be introduced to several different tools that should help the student stay on top of his/her information inventory.

Much of the course will focus on Web-based tools, but I plan on also introducing mobile tools when appropriate.

Specific topics discussed

Again, with the understanding that this list is provisional, here are the topics and types of technologies that I currently plan on discussing and introducing:

  • Wikis
  • Blogs
  • Web search techniques (4 days)
  • Resource quality evaluation
  • RSS (2 days)
  • Blog search
  • News search
  • Twitter (2 days)
  • Automation tools (ifttt & Yahoo Pipes)
  • Image search
  • Pinterest
  • Page monitoring
  • Research tools
  • Change notification
  • Video search
  • Social search (digg, reddit)
  • Metasearch
  • Custom search engine


Well, that’s it for now. If you’re a UM student, you should be able to sign up for this class in the usual ways. Even if you’re not a UM student, you should be able to use much of the information on the site (and interact with me to some extent). Here are some other thoughts:

  • If you are interested in getting some insight into the development of this course, follow me on twitter at drsamoore or read my blog.
  • If you’re excited about the course:
    • If you’re a UM student, tell your friends about the course and get them to sign up.
    • Send me a public tweet (include @drsamoore anywhere in the tweet except as the first characters) describing why — and use the hashtag #bit330 when referring to the course.
    • Follow bit330 on twitter. This is the account I will use during the semester for all course-related information. Until that time I will periodically post more targeted status reports and other informational items on this account.
  • If you have questions about this course, send me an email at If you send me an email, put BIT330 in the subject line. (Or, of course, send me a tweet, either public or private.)
  • If you think I’m missing something that would make the course better, again, send me a public tweet describing what that “something” is.
  • Soon I will post a video that should give you some more insight into the course. Be on the lookout for an announcement within the next couple of weeks.

I hope this provides enough information to get you unnaturally excited about taking a class. I hope to hear from you soon!

Observations from Bingham and Connor’s The New Social Learning

I am currently reading The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Connor. This book is about enabling, supporting, and boosting the learning that is going on via social means of an organization’s employees. Of course, I am more interested in doing all of this for the students in my class, but I am hopeful that I will be able to transfer some insights from one context to another. As I have started to read it, I’m getting so many ideas; in this post I list of the ones from just Chapter 1 that excite me most; the emphases below are mine. I assume that longer posts will follow on some of these individual ideas (and on some from later chapters). This is not meant to be a review or to capture the important points from the book — this is just a set of my reactions to some of their ideas at the beginning of the book.

A student’s roles in a class

From p5: “We encourage you to use this book to discover how social media tools facilitate learning, how they might be leveraged to extend and expand your interactions with colleagues, and how to use them to create something vibrant. As Chris Brogan, one of the top bloggers in the world, coauthor of Trust Agents, and author of Social Media 101 says, ‘Focus on connecting with the people, and the tools will all make sense.’ ” — When designing my upcoming class, I continue to look for tools that enable connections at the right time, but I’m also thinking of how I can get across the idea to the students that they are supposed to support each other, to teach each other, to share with each other. They have been programmed from at least elementary school (and certainly at Michigan Ross with our enforced curve) that school is a competitive experience, that if you do better, then someone else has to do worse. I will have a strong tide to swim against.

The social basis of knowledge

From p7: “At its most basic level, new social learning can result in people becoming more informed, gaining a wider perspective, and being able to make better decisions by engaging with others. It acknowledges that learning happens with and through other people, as a matter of participating in a community, not just by acquiring knowledge.” — It has only been in the last few years that I have come to know this! (I’m a little slow sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time.) I have come to know that knowledge is an extremely social construct, that knowing something in some sense means knowing how to work with and through other people to get something done, that if you don’t have that level of knowledge, then you don’t really know something. If it’s possible to teach a class in a way that supports a discovery of this truth, then I will be looking for that way.

Technology for social learning

Social learning isn’t new. It has been going on since humans have walked the planet. We have used technology to support the process for at least 50 years (even though that’t not what it was called at the time). — Personally, I tend to get somewhat swept up in the latest technology. (If you know me, you know that I just said the equivalent of “The sun is hot.”) But I have been around long enough to know that this is true…at some level. The technology might have supported this process before, but it was only for people with a certain skills set or for people who worked in a certain industry. The technology now seems to be available and useful to a much broader segment of the population doing a much broader range of tasks. Given this, it seems like it would be useful to get students some experience with these tools sooner rather than later.

Social learning for higher ed

Social learning technologies “move services, assets, smarts, and guidance closer to where they are needed — to people seeking answers, solving problems, overcoming uncertainty, and improving how they work.” — This captures why I think social learning technologies would be useful for my class. I am not going to have all the answers; I want students to take ownership of some of the material and learn to share their own expertise; I want students to learn to reach out to a community for answers instead of just the supposed expert (i.e., me), even though that is what they have been trained to do all of their academic lives. Once they get into the work world, they will have to learn to operate in this generally ambiguous fashion. I figure I can start the process early for them in order to give them a leg up once they get out into the real world.

Social learning in my class

On p9 the authors explain what social learning is not, and this helped me clarify my thinking related to how I would use these technologies in my class:

  • It’s not at odds with formal education. By setting the students up with twitter accounts (that is, those that don’t have one already), I can enable them to share and seek information formally and informally (if that distinction even makes sense any more).
  • It’s not a replacement for training… That’s good, because I was still planning on using training videos and in-person experiences and online exercises in the class.

Appropriate testing

On p11: “The 21st century mind is a collective mind where we access what we know in our friends’ and colleagues’ brains. Together we can be smarter and can address ever more challenging problems. What we store in our heads may not be as important as all that we can tap in our networks. Together we are better.” — Testing a student’s ability to recall facts just seems silly in today’s world. What we need to be testing is a student’s ability to solve a problem using appropriate methods. More and more, “appropriate methods” include usage of the student’s personal network. Why? Because that is how they will address problems for the rest of their lives. It is a social world, and no student will ever be an island. (Except, apparently, if they sit in a classroom.)

Sharing expertise vs. enabling collaboration

On p19: “Learning can easily occur anytime, anywhere, and in a variety of formats. It always has, but now it’s codified and easy for others to see. These new social tools can enable organizations to strike a balance between surfacing the knowledge people need and giving them the ease and freedom to learn in a healthy and open way.” — Organizations have long worked to get employees to share their expertise so that others can build upon it. It seems to me that this new model of social learning has a bit different take on this. Efforts here are focused on getting employees to collaborate in problem solving, to draw them explicitly into the process so that their expertise can be used directly. The social tools should make it easier to reach out to these people, and to establish the true nature of the need for others to see (via an ongoing open, sharing practice).

Expanding the boundaries

On p20: “Learning is what makes us more vibrant participants in a world seeking fresh perspectives, novel insights, and first-hand experiences. When shared, what we have learned mixes with what others have learned, then ripples out, transforming organizations, enterprises, ecosystems, and the society around us.” — I want to make my class as valuable as possible. I want students to share what they have learned. I want people who are not in my class to be able to get a glimpse of the wonderful experiences we have shared in the class. I want students in my future classes to build upon the works and learning of my current class so that future students can go beyond where my current students are able to go. How? That’s a topic for a future post! But I think it’s a good goal, and one that is in reach.

How and when students learn

On p20: Some researchers in learning have found that “70 percent of learning and development takes place from real-life and on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem solving; 20 percent of the time development comes from other people through informal or formal feedback, mentoring, or coaching; and 10 percent of learning and development comes from formal training.” — This might be true because formal training only takes place 10% of the time; mentoring 20% of the time, etc. Or it might be that formal training provides knowledge that is not measured by these statistics. Or, most disturbingly, it might be that formal training hasn’t been imparting knowledge that is in any way useful. That would not be a happy interpretation of the data from my perspective. My personal takeaway from this is that I try to provide students with many opportunities to create tasks that both are personally relevant to them and apply theories and frameworks from the class I am teaching. I also try to give personal feedback as much as possible and create opportunities for students to give and receive feedback among themselves (if possible for the class); I have found that both teaching other students and learning from other students also help students retain information.

Class as a context for experimenting

On p21: “The new social learning, which centers on information sharing, collaboration, and co-creation — not instruction — implies that the notion of training needs to expand.” — This is a good summary of my motivation for working on this class. It provides a context to test my theories of learning and teaching, to see which facets of these processes can work in a digital environment and which require a blended approach.

Application of knowledge as a means for remembering

On p22: “Knowledge acquired but never put to use is usually forgotten. We may act as if we care about learning something and go through the motions, but we will forget it unless it is something we want to learn and it fits how we work.” — As I have taught over the years, I have learned this again and again. (Have I mentioned that I have a thick skull?) The concept of “covering the material” is nearly a meaningless phrase. Unless a student interacts with the concept, makes it somehow personally meaningful, it will be forgotten. Just because the teacher says the words doesn’t mean that the student heard them, understood them, or will ever even remember that they were said. Design a course so that the student has time to apply the concepts in a meaningful context. It is best if the student can construct that context; otherwise, what is perceived as meaningful to the professor can end up being perceived as irrelevant or confusing by the student. Not good. The question for the professor becomes how to come up with a way of managing all these different contexts during the learning process. Again, another question for another blog post.


That’s it for now. (As if that wasn’t enough, huh?)

As I said, this post is in no way a summary of the book, or even of this chapter. I hope it does, in some way, encourage you to read this book for yourself; as you can tell, I feel it has been worth my time. I would love to hear your take on some of the points above. I’m struggling with a lot of concepts, and juggling lots of balls. I need some of you to help me think through all of this.

Relating the housing and education markets

In a wonderful and expansive blog post, Mark Cuban — businessman, billionaire, and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks — draws a clear and detailed analogy between the housing market bubble bursting and the current state of the higher education industry. Yes, I had heard this before but he paints a wonderfully vivid (though, of course, disturbing) picture of the economics of the situation.

His general points are as follows:

  • Too many students have loans that are too big to be easily paid back.
  • Student loans are too easy to get.
  • The end recipients of the loan money (colleges and universities) are motivated to continue raising their tuition rates because they don’t have to worry about either paying the money back or whether or not they will receive it — it’s guaranteed!
  • Borrowing money to pay for college and then hoping to earn it back in lifetime earnings is just like home buyers hoping to buy an over-priced house and then flip it in a couple of years for many thousands of dollars more. And it worked for many years…until it didn’t any more. And the effects of this bubble bursting are likely to be no less horrific than those for the housing bubble.
  • Since student debt is so high upon graduation, students are essentially forced to move back home and put almost all their money to their loan payments. Not saving for a car. Not buying a nice wardrobe for work. Not stimulating the economy and creating jobs! Making the loan payment…for years and years. Unless they can’t, and have to go into bankruptcy.

Here are words (those of Mark Cuban) that should send shivers down the spine of every business professor in a top-ranked (or even medium-ranked) school:

As an employer I want the best prepared and qualified employees. I could care less if the source of their education was accredited by a bunch of old men and women who think they know what is best for the world. I want people who can do the job. I want the best and brightest. Not a piece of paper.

If this sentiment were to spread, then the game would change over night. What if potential employers defined “best prepared and qualified” in a way that wasn’t necessarily equivalent to “degree from a highly ranked and accredited university”? It’t not like there aren’t alternatives out there waiting.

Let’s consider these three:

DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education is a book by Anya Kamenetz “about the future of higher education. It’s a story about the communities of visionaries who are tackling the enormous challenges of cost, access, and quality in higher ed, using new technologies to bring us a revolution in higher learning that is affordable, accessible, and learner-centered” (from this page).
P2P University
From their home page, “IT’S ONLINE AND TOTALLY FREE. At P2PU, people work together to learn a particular topic by completing tasks, assessing individual and group work, and providing constructive feedback.”
Their mission is “To change the notion that university is the only path to success and to help people to thrive in an ever changing world in which it is virtually impossible for educational institutions to adapt.”

With the efforts by MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and others, professional schools (such as Michigan Ross) need to be leading the charge towards digital education. Why? Because they have the most to lose. When students routinely are asked to pay $50,000 per year while simultaneously giving up their position in the work force, the professional school better have a really good defense against any questions about their value proposition. Lots of questions need answers, or at least the possibilities need to be explored:

  • What will digital education look like?
  • How is digital education best accomplished?
  • What are the different pricing levels and education delivery models?
  • How does the blended learning model fit in all of this?
  • How can the threat of “free” (or, at least, extremely low cost) models of education be met?

In any case, standing on the sideline shouldn’t be an option. And, to be sure, the burden of worrying about this should not fall on the head of only the administrative team. Faculty, staff, and administration need to feel the urgency of this threat — the sense that something needs to be done, the feeling that the organization’s existence is being questioned, and that everyone is pulling in the same direction and working towards the same goal. Not all compensation questions and long term organizational issues can be answered before schools need to begin taking action. Faculty need to begin trying out educational delivery models with support from the school. The administration needs to come up with strategic plans for positioning themselves in the marketplace, while the faculty needs to have a sense of that direction and trust that the administration will be looking out for their best interests. If action isn’t taken soon, the range of possible actions available to schools and faculty is going to be severely limited. Act now, and figure out answers later. Everything can’t be known because the world is changing too fast. Some best guesses and assumptions have to be made.

This can only work if faculty and the administration have the sense that they are sitting on the same side of the table. What do you feel at your school? Are these two groups ready to work together?

A new teaching and technology initiative from Purdue

In this article on Purdue University’s student newspaper, Rachel Rapkin reports the following:

President France Córdova announced an initiative for college students around the world to access Purdue’s online courses. The system is called PurdueHUB-U and it includes a “blended format” class for residential students. … Through this website hub, residential students will be able to learn class content online by watching the lectures, submitting homework and taking tests. The actual class time will be used for activities, more engagement and participation.

In the article Purdue’s provost also points out that their research indicates that a blended learning model might be superior to online only or lecture only. Well, that makes sense to me, certainly. I also consider this a great way to make progress with this — conduct experiments with actual classes, learn from them, then make the technology more widely available. There are many steps before we have arrived at The Future of Education (drumroll, please!), but we’ll never get there without taking our first, tentative steps.

Delivering the right education at the right time

I have seen a lot of articles about challenges to traditional higher ed recently, and I’m not hopeful for the future of the university given the types of reactions I’m seeing from the field’s “leadership.” Here I show you a little of what I’ve been seeing and give you my take on the matters at hand.

The threat of MOOCs

Let’s consider MOOCs and the Professoriate by Kaustuv Basu at Inside Higher Ed. (This is a reflection on Tom Friedman’s very positive NYTimes article Come the revolution about MOOCs, Coursera, and online education, generally.) While it might be excused for a professor’s first reaction to the reality of online education to be defensive, by now we should be past this reaction. We should have moved on to figuring out how we can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. By the tone of this article, many professors haven’t taken that step yet. The article ends with this quote from Margaret Soltan, who was the first professor at George Washington University to offer a MOOC:

“Online is clearly inferior, even if done very well, [compared to] face-to-face education and to the social rites of growing up which college represents for many, many people,” she said.

Knowing what the customer values

This is an example of a really dangerous way of thinking. (This is where I put my “business professor” hat on…) This is a very important point:

It doesn’t matter if their product is inferior. It doesn’t matter if a bundled good (the accompanying “social rites”) increases the value of your product. If the customer wants something else, then the organization that provides that new “something else” will win out in the end.

Let’s think about early 1970’s American cars (for example, the 1971 Chrysler Imperial). Was the 1971 Honda Civic a superior car? No, but Chrysler should have been extremely worried about it. Why? Because it addressed a segment of the population whose needs weren’t being met. It provided reliable, economical transportation. It didn’t have a big trunk and it barely carried 4 passengers, but sometimes what it provided was just enough — and it was a lot less expensive.

Or, for another completely different type of example, the 2012 Ferrari FF is clearly a superior car to the 2012 Ford Taurus. But should Ford be worried about the Ferrari? Remember, the Ferrari is clearly a superior product in almost every way. Why isn’t Ford worried about losing all of their customers to Ferrari? Well, the Ferrari is astoundingly more expensive; for many customers, the Ford delivers more value for the money. It is the customer who determines the value being received — not the product itself! Ferrari definitely has a market for their product, but Ford’s product is appropriate for a much larger segment of the overall population.

For an interesting aside, note that Fiat owns Ferrari and sells a variety of cars: Fiat, Ferrari, Maserati, and Chrysler. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this allows Fiat to sell a wide variety of cars to a larger, diverse, global market than if they just sold one line of cars.

In these two examples, if it’s not clear already, traditional universities (that would be me and my organization) play the roles of Chrysler and Ferrari. We have a well-defined product that hasn’t changed much. We are faced with a lower cost, somewhat comparable product (online education in a variety of forms) that provides a different value proposition than we do. We are the high cost provider who tries to integrate all possible benefits into our value proposition. This leaves us vulnerable to the threat of competitors who are able to unbundle these benefits in a rational way.


This analysis leads me to a few conclusions:

  • Not all students in all meetings of all classes need the high end product. Further, let’s stop pretending that all of our classes are a high end product. Have professors recently sat in some of these huge lecture halls where a majority of students receive a majority of their education? After doing so, it would be hard to defend the position that a well-done video lecture wouldn’t provide the same (or even more) benefit in many instances. Yes, small seminars do provide a highly valuable experience. But how many students experience this (and how often) in their undergraduate education?
  • There is a legitimate reason and justification to deliver different types of products (education) at different price levels, even if the same product (some particular piece of knowledge or learning outcome) is at the core. Universities should work at creating different products for different parts of the market, some with lots of human contact, some with less human contact, or maybe some programs with blended delivery. Parts of the market clearly hunger for a lower cost product, especially when they don’t see the value of the higher cost version.
  • Universities (particularly business schools) should think about spinning off a company that provides expertise in the job hunt to young job seekers (for example) — they could then sell this to the marketplace instead of just providing it to their current students. The university could also think about doing this with other services. Why wait for other companies to unbundle your services for you? Why not do it yourself?

If universities (and the faculty they employ) want to continue to exist for another century (or even couple of decades) at anything like the scale they currently operate, then faculty and should stop trying to wish the problem away and start trying to be part of the solution. Professors should experiment with different delivery mechanisms in your own courses on a small scale. University leadership should encourage this experimentation, be willing to forgive experiments that fail (i.e., complaints from students or lower course evaluations), and set up systems for sharing the successes and failures so that everyone can get better faster.

A variety of educational models from which to choose


I was in a meeting yesterday where we were discussing different ways that we (as a school, or as faculty) might innovate in educational delivery. I felt I was flying a bit blind, bumping around in the dark, hunting for answers. I needed some type of landmarks for navigating this journey. The following are some of the high level organizational ideas that helped me think about the possibilities.

Available models

The models that I could come up with varied in several ways:

  • Are students learning at the same time?
  • Are students learning in one big group, or alone, or in “pods”?
  • Are students in the same place as the teacher?
  • Is the intermediary technology of extremely high quality or not?

I’m sure there are other ways that this pizza can be sliced, but this was helpful for me as I considered the possibilities…

Bored students are not the fault of the student
Same time, same place

This is the traditional method of teaching as practiced by universities and just about everyone else for hundreds of years. Before computing and communication technologies, there really weren’t any alternatives to this to speak of. Now, if traditionalists in the higher-ed community want to continue to offer this model, then the benefits of having students all in the same room with the teacher have to outweigh the serious costs and inconveniences of making that happen. Too often, students get lectured at in a classroom when they could have gotten just as much out of it on a YouTube video (given the chance he/she actually had to interact with the faculty or students). If universities want to continue to deliver this model, they are going to have to up their game.

Education delivered under this model certainly varies tremendously based on the number of students. We have everything from a small seminar with maybe 5 students, to a small classroom with 15 students, to a medium-sized class where everyone knows everyone else in the class, to a huge lecture hall filled with anonymous students.

Global education, any time, any place
Different times, different places

Of all the alternative models, this is the slow pitch over the heart of the plate (for those of you who understand “baseball”). Or the “gimme” for the golfers among us. Khan Academy has seemingly taken the world by storm with its self-paced tutorials on (seemingly) just about anything. My parents even asked me about them.

The myriad tools that make this model possible are widely (and cheaply) available. When professors create these resources to teach the “basic facts” of their course, this could free up class time for more valuable activities. It would also allow students to learn the concepts at their own pace and also ask questions before the class in which the concept is used, thus allowing more students to have a positive contribution to the activity.

Every professor should see this these technologies as a way of making his/her own teaching in a classroom better right now. It shouldn’t take a school initiative — just go do it.

Same time, single remote place (standard quality)

Here at Ross we have been doing this for nearly two decades in our Global MBA Program and now our ExecMBA Program (among others). The professor is in one place and the students are sitting in some classroom far, far away. This is fairly easy to do moderately well. The problem is the limited bandwidth between the teacher and the students in the class. It is really hard to get a dynamic classroom environment going — subtle clues are difficult to pick up, and it’s hard to get a quick give-and-take discussion going.

This model gets harder to implement well as the number of students increases, or the size of the display screen on either end decreases! All subtlety is lost in this type of environment.

Same time, single remote place (telepresence)

Telepresence is defined in wikipedia as:

Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present, or to have an effect, via telerobotics, at a place other than their true location.

The idea here is that the recipient end (classroom with students) has some pretty high-end video and audio technology which enables the students to get a much better sense of the professor being in the classroom (although she might be continents away). Most of the technologies today are related to conference rooms, but it is fairly easy to project that larger-scale implementations would give the impression of a faculty member lecturing at the front of the class (from the students’ side of things) and a faculty member seeing a roomful of students (from the faculty member’s side).

For now, this would be a relatively high-end, expensive undertaking; however, soon enough it will be expected. It is a nearly perfect tool for projecting a high end brand (e.g., a superstar professor from a highly reputable university) to classrooms all around the world. The professor could be in some production room anywhere (becoming more common all the time) and the students could be anywhere that the university is able to project its brand, to attract a large enough body of its students. Further, there’s no reason that all of these students would have to be in the same classroom. Why couldn’t there be a pod of students in Shanghai, another in Los Angeles, and a third in Sao Paolo?

If universities are worried about other universities moving into “their territory” now, they haven’t seen anything yet.

Yes, you could actually take classes in your pajamas
Same time, multiple remote places (singles)

This is a model that I described in a previous post, supported by tools such as LectureTools. The idea here is that students don’t necessarily need to come to a specific classroom in order to learn the material — all they have to do is watch, and participate in, the “broadcast” of the lecture. Under this model (practiced at the University of South Florida, among other places), students could either be attending a traditional university and taking the online class along with their other face-to-face classes, or they could be physically at home but attending summer classes back at school, or they could be “joint enrolled” in a class taught at another university.

Same time, multiple remote places (groups)

This is a variant of the previous model. It emphasizes the fact that there are benefits to having multiple students in the same room going through the process together. Maybe they work on exercises together; maybe they have group activities; maybe they have small group discussions at specified times during the class; maybe they have different skill levels so that one person can help mentor the other students. Any of a variety of circumstances might be applicable but, in any case, here we have the same remote educational process but students are attending the session in groups.

Blended models

Finally, the “unit of analysis” need not be a full semester class. It could be that a teacher organizes the class so that it meets once every couple of weeks in person and meets remotely during the other weeks. Or maybe there would be one in-person meeting at the beginning and then lots of smaller different time and different place learning activities for a month, followed by same time, multiple place sessions. The possibilities are endless — but only if teachers learn to think about applying the right teaching method to the right desired learning outcome.


Certainly, the above taxonomy doesn’t cover all of the interesting dimensions that are available. A couple, right off the top of my head, are the number of students enrolled in the class (i.e., is this a MOOC?), whether or not the student’s performance is graded, and whether or not the student’s performance or capabilities are certified. All of these matter, but they are for me to think about at another time and place (ha! little joke!).

Let me know what you think about the above. Does it help you think about the possibilties? Any other big dimensions I should include in my thinking?

The online education wave: is it time to catch it or get swept away?

David Brooks, at The New York Times, wrote an intriguing editorial “The Campus Tsunami” (May 3, 2012) that provoked a lot of thinking on my part. Regardless of what I write here, be sure to read his article. It will be well worth your time.

What I do below is simply list a series of short quotes from his article followed by my reactions to each. As always, I am writing this as a long-time professor (though one not in any type of leadership position; these are simply my thoughts and do not reflect any “official” position) at the Michigan Ross School of Business.

The elite, pace-setting universities have embraced the Internet. Not long ago, online courses were interesting experiments. Now online activity is at the core of how these schools envision their futures.

This isn’t quite what it feels like from my position. From my office at Ross I feel like UM’s recent move with Coursera is happening at a place far, far away. Maybe it is entirely true that online activity is at the core of how UM envisions its future, but I can’t see it from down here in the weeds. (Not that anyone should tell me or anything; I’m just reporting what I see.) We are moving slowly and cautiously. I have hope that we’ll do something more soon, but I haven’t seen it yet.

What happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to higher education: a rescrambling around the Web.

Yes, yes, yes! Certainly, we have heard these proclamations before (Fathom comes to mind), but this time it feels like there’s more meat on these bones. With its OpenCourseWare, MIT has now been in this game for a decade. edX is a collaboration between Harvard and MIT in which they plan to “collaborate to enhance campus-based teaching and learning and build a global community of online learners.” The University of North Carolina now offers a fully online MBA program whose tuition is essentially equivalent to their in-person, on-site MBA.

Yes, stuff is definitely happening, and I don’t see it slowing down. It is going to change how the public and how the government view the concept of education and will change what they’re willing to pay for (and how much they’re willing to pay). Just like newspapers, we need to figure out what our revenue model is going to be and what expenditures we are willing to support, and these decisions better be right or we might find ourselves on the wrong side of the AOL/Google divide.

Will online learning diminish the face-to-face community that is the heart of the college experience?

I don’t think these are necessarily contradictory notions. I don’t see why online learning couldn’t coexist with face-to-face community in a traditional college. Here’s a couple of thoughts. Teach some classes using purely online learning to students on your own campus. Why? To reduce the number of classrooms needed, to increase the number of students who can take any particular class, to increase the number of classes you can offer at popular times. At the same time, continue to offer other face-to-face classes and other traditional college extra-curricular activities. If these are seen as providing a significant-enough value, then students will be able to justify the expenditure of attending a traditional college experience. I have lots more to say about this point, but I’ll stop for now.

On a related point, the unstated (and, by me anyway, inferred) question here is “Does online learning provide an inferior education to the face-to-face learning currently provided in the typical college experience?” Your answer to this question depends on how you think about education and what you think education is. I’m not sure that face-to-face learning is the what of education — it might currently be, and might have been (for the last several millenia), defined by this type of learning; alternatively, it might simply be the how of traditional education. Yes, people are wired fairly well to pick up on physical clues, tonal clues, and all sorts of implied communication when we are physically in the same room when we are communicating. On the other hand, I think technology is getting close to good enough (and might actually be there) so that taking an online class from an excellent professor would be superior to taking a traditional, face-to-face class from the average professor. It’s certainly something to think about (and experiment with). I think this points us in the direction of exploring online learning so that we can figure out how to do it better.

If a few star professors can lecture to millions, what happens to the rest of the faculty?

It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? What happened to newsrooms in the last ten years? What has happened to corporate organizational structures over the last twenty years? Lots and lots of people in positions that were not rewarded by the market lost their jobs. Professors at MRFIHLs (major research-focused institute of higher learning) bring in revenue in two significant ways — first, by teaching classes with tuition-paying students, and second, by bringing in grant money from corporations or foundations. Many details are not clear, but it seems apparent to me that, as both direct state appropriations and tuition support programs continue to shrink, MRFIHLs are going to have to strategically reduce faculty. (As I have said before, I have more to say here but this post is already too long as it is.)

Will academic standards be as rigorous?

I don’t see why it wouldn’t be the case that some places have rigorous academic standards, and other places have almost no academic standards, with many others falling in-between the two extremes. Not much different than the current situation.

What happens to the students who don’t have enough intrinsic motivation to stay glued to their laptop hour after hour?

What happens to students at a traditional school who don’t have enough intrinsic motivation to go to class or to pay attention when in their class? Online learning is not a panacea for poorly prepared or minimally motivated students — it requires a different type of discipline but does not remove the need for it entirely.

Online learning could extend the influence of American universities around the world.

This is absolutely true. It is an amazing opportunity. This is why we should be excited about the new opportunity for extending our reach and effect on the world. Yes, it will be painful in the short term and require all of us to change our skill sets and comfort zones; however, the alternative is obsolescence or irrelevance.

Research into online learning suggests that it is roughly as effective as classroom learning. It’s easier to tailor a learning experience to an individual student’s pace and preferences.

These are seriously important questions: What types of teaching and learning can be most effective for online learning, and what absolutely depends on in-person and face-to-face experiences? Also, what types of information needs to be captured in order to create a personally-tailored learning experience that is most effective? These are significant areas for research, some of which will be generally available for public consumption, and some of which will be kept confidential for competitive reasons. MRFIHLs need to start addressing these now, or they risk being left on the sidelines as the global education market evolves.

People learn from people they love and remember the things that arouse emotion. If you think about how learning actually happens, you can discern many different processes. There is absorbing information. There is reflecting upon information as you reread it and think about it. There is scrambling information as you test it in discussion or try to mesh it with contradictory information. Finally there is synthesis, as you try to organize what you have learned into an argument or a paper.

For the “arouse emotion” comment: yes, yes, yes! I work very hard at this when I am teaching a face-to-face class. I want the students excited about something — anything — because I know that the engagement itself will help them both remember the material and feel better about the time spent in class. The question becomes “how can a professor do this when teaching an online class?” Well, I would think film, performance, and media studies would have a lot to say about this as well as studies of pedagogy.

As for the rest of the above paragraph (that is, the different processes), I think a question facing those who want to provide online education is “how can a professor enable or encourage or, even, recognize the appropriate time for these other processes?” The organization that can figure this out and apply it appropriately will have a leg up on teaching a wider variety of classes more effectively.

Well, that’s it for now. I know that the above is a lot to absorb, but Brooks’s article provided a lot stimulus. Let me know if you have any thoughts or reactions based on the above.

Questions related to coming changes in higher education

At the session “Public Online Social Learning Environments” led by Patricia Anderson (mind map for session at UMTTC), we discussed a mind-blowingly expansive set of alternative educational (or teaching or learning) models. Also recently, Alex Summers at Edudemic wrote a nice article titled “The 10 Biggest Trends in Online Education Right Now”. Below I briefly recount a few of the issues mentioned; however, I focus my writing on the questions raised for MRFIHL (major research-focused institutes of higher learning — e.g., the University of Michigan, where I work).

Themes related to coming changes

These themes kept popping up during her talk and our discussion (I can tell you right now that none of these have anything to do with visiting beautiful old buildings on beautiful campuses):

  • Personalization: How can teaching be personalized to the needs of each specific learner? How is the educational program, plan, or content be specialized to the needs of that learner? Students are far less interested in taking the standard class (sequence, or program) and much more interested in taking what, specifically, is best for the student at this particular time.
  • Social: How can students link what they’re doing to the rest of the people in their lives, or at least to the other people going through the same learning process?
  • Free: Lots of really great educational resources are available for free online, with many from reputable sources (many universities world-wide, TED conferences, community organizations; more on this in a future post). How can a university justify (and thereby enable it to pay my salary) charging students such high fees?
  • Localization: Why should students have to come to one specific room in one specific campus in order to learn some material? Why can’t they learn from wherever they happen to be?Lots of technologies are available that allow this type of geographic dispersion to work fairly well.
  • Asynchronous: Why should students have to come together at a specific time to learn the material? If it is just to hear a lecture and not to interact with the other people in the classroom or the professor at the front, then what’s the purpose?
  • Qualifiable: Is the “teacher” or “organizer” qualified to lead the class? How do you know? Maybe more importantly, how does your future employer know, and does he/she care?
  • Transferrable: How can you get credit for what you have learned at a place other than where you learned it?
  • Open: Can anyone have access to the materials (assignments, lectures, learning tools) for the class? Or is there an application mechanism?

Online education specifically

Rather than recount Alex’s list here, I’’ll focus on the questions posed by a subset of those for MRFIHL:

  • Online education becoming more valued by employers: The perception of online education is improving. The benefits of online education are real — it isn’t always better than in-person education, but it does have benefits. Why shouldn’t a MRFIHL provide some online education when it is appropriate?
  • Hybrid courses are becoming more available: Hybrid courses, those that are delivered with a mixture of in-person and online, can be seen in a few more traditional universities. Again, there are benefits here, both in efficiency to the professor and student and in increasing the types of material and collaborators that can be brought to class. Why not start exploring this space and sharing our successes and failures?
  • Remote collaboration is a key benefit (teaching): Experts live all around the world, both in academia and in the RL, and it should be considered possible that they may not want to travel to Ann Arbor in the depth of winter (from November-April). If we integrate remote technologies into our classes, we could then get more used to involving these experts in our classes, and not have it be some type of special occasion. In theory this should raise the quality of the classes.
  • Remote collaboration is a key benefit (learning): Students come from all around the world. Technologies enabling remote collaboration have come a long way in the last few years, getting to the point where they are even non-remarkable (Skype, Google Docs, Google Hangout). Use of these tools should enable students to live anywhere where a reasonable telecommunications infrastructure exists and effectively participate in classes back at the MRFIHL. Why shouldn’t we use these technologies to reach out to this far-flung audience?
  • Digital content distribution is easily done: In contrast to paper- or book-based distribution, digital distribution is quite straight-forward. A whole industry and set of technologies exist to simplify this process (ebooks, PDFs, Kindles, LMSs, etc.). All of this allows students to access and interact with that content wherever they might be, as long as they are near a phone, tablet, or computer. And what student doesn’t have his or her phone nearby? So far, the reason that this isn’t done more frequently is that students still have work habits that are better supported with paper. If the benefits of electronic distribution were better taken advantage of, analog distribution would disappear quickly. What student wants to carry around a huge backpack of books?
  • Online education encompasses lots of choices: This isn’t just ebooks or a talking head in a video. As Summers points out, “These days students have a wide variety of tools at their disposal, including text chat, immersive multimedia, virtual classrooms, and digital whiteboards.” Why not experiment with these different delivery mechanisms and see what we learn about them? We may find that we enjoy using them; we may find that students appreciate the options and variety it gives them; we may actually find out that students learn just as well with these tools as with in-person classrooms.
  • Social media can be integral to online education: Students are certainly active with social media. Well, it turns out that social media (at least Twitter, blogging, Google Hangouts, and Pinterest) can be quite supportive of the educational process, too. Why wouldn’t a professor want students to be interacting with the course material at many touch-points throughout their lives instead of just in a textbook or during a lecture? Why not facilitate many types of discussions in many contexts in order to show the variety of ways that the class material can affect the student?


So, what does this mean to me? Well, that will have to wait for a future post. This one is long enough (ummm, maybe it’t too long, Scott). For now, I would love to hear how you and/or your organization is addressing this. Are you using one-off experiments with individual faculty members simply doing it and asking for forgiveness rather than permission? Or is there an organizational push to get faculty to do this? I would love to hear your responses!