Tuesday, November 09, 2010

We See This as the Future of Higher Education

(Cross-posted on my Algebra class blog - thought I'd share it here as well.)

I’d like you to read this article in the New York Times titled, Learning in Dorm, Because Class is on the Web (two pages, make sure you click through to page two). Go ahead, go read it, then come back.

This article illustrates that many colleges – which most of you will be attending in 3-4 years – are starting to utilize some of the same video techniques we’re trying to use in our Algebra class. There are a variety of different ways colleges are using this, some are pretty similar to what I’m doing, others are very different (consider yourself lucky, you only have to watch 8-10 minutes of me, not an 85 minute streamed lecture!).

Note that some colleges are doing this primarily for financial reasons,
You have X amount of money, what are you going to do with it?
others are exploring whether it can be a more effective way of delivering instruction,
She said an advantage of the Internet is that students can stop the lecture and rewind when they do not understand something.
No matter the reason, it appears likely that more classes will be offered this way by the time you get to college.
We see this as the future of higher education.
So consider our Algebra class a chance not only to learn Algebra (and enjoy my amazing wit), but an opportunity to begin preparing yourself to be successful in college – and beyond – by learning how to learn through online components of courses.

Notice how some students don’t like this approach.
In a conventional class, “I’m someone who sits toward the front and shares my thoughts with the teacher,” she said. In the 10 or so online courses she has taken in her four years, “it’s all the same,” she said. “No comments. No feedback. And the grades are always late.”
This is one of the reasons why I believe hybrid classes – where there’s an online component and a face-to-face component - are perhaps currently the best of both worlds when done well (although that may change as we get better at implementing online courses). But several things have to happen in order for classes like this to work.

First, students must watch/complete the “lecture” or “content-delivery” video portion of the class outside of class. Clearly some college students – as well as some of you – are not doing this. If this part isn't done, the entire model falls apart.

Second, just as critically, students must be active participants in class to maximize the value of our time together. Students must be willing to use class time as an opportunity both to explore and to practice mathematical ideas and concepts, not as a time to sit back and be “told” or “shown” what to do. This is why I continue to try to get you guys to think more on your own, to talk and work in your groups, and to take risks in your learning, instead of simply waiting for me to show you the “right” answer.

So I’m hopeful that as we continue with this approach we all will get better at it. I need you to hold up your end of the bargain (watch/complete the videos outside of class - including the Guided Practice and Self-Check portions, complete the homework and online pre-assessments, actively participate/explore/think in class, and come in for help and to re-assess), and I hopefully will get better at structuring class to complement the video instruction outside of class. Together we can not only help you master Algebra, but prepare you to be successful learners in college and beyond.


  1. Great post!! I love the hybrid courses I am taking right now at the University of South Alabama! I agree that it is important to have face time with classmates and the professor, but it is awesome to wear comfy pjs and listen to lectures on my own time while eating dinner. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this!

  2. I've been researching Blended or Hybrid Learning for my school and introduced our faculty to "flip teaching" last summer. Some of our faculty are giving it a go with mix results. I say mixed only because of the "cultural shift" necessary for both teachers and learners. As you remind us, students need to be self-directed and self-assessing in order to better manage their own learning; teachers have to change their classroom strategies in order to give students opportunities to apply what they've learned. I'm curious as to how your students reacted to NYT article and to your blog. Great post. I've already shared it with my colleagues.

  3. I watched an interesting video last week on what one group, Peer to Peer U sees as the future of higher ed, at least in web development certification. All six minutes of the video is worth watching at least twice because what is said may have dramatic implications. BTW, I an in no way associated with Peer to Peer other than being interested in their concepts and their goals. You can see the video at http://p2pu.org/about.
    Best regards,
    RJ Johnson

  4. Dr. Fisch,

    I'm from the University of South Alabama. It's funny that you teach a math class in which you use technology because before this semester I would have thought you were crazy! This is my first year to have a math lab attached to my actually math class, and at first I wondered what the heck to I need a computer for, it's math-all I need is a pencil and a piece of paper. Not only am I able to do my homework online (save trees), but there are forums, messages are sent back and forth between students and the teaching aide, and the teacher, etc., but I if I can't figure out how to do the problem, I can do the tutorial, and it tells me if I'm worng or not right then. So tell your students you are 100% right! All but one of my classes require me to be on the computer most of the time, so be prepared and enjoy the ride. Thanks for sharing!


  5. I would like to follow up my previous comment about Peer to Peer University with some more details about why I was so fascinated with their approach.

    •Representatives of p2pu have spoken at well-known American colleges as well as in China, India, South Africa, and Brazil. Their main markets will currently in the countries such as China and India, the same countries with so many honors students.
    •Learning should be in small, flexible packages.
    •By putting participants in small groups, they increase their subject matter learning, learn better how to collaborate, and share leadership.
    •The university is made up of mainly volunteers and everyone can get involved with governance and strategy – this provides another very unique learning opportunity.
    •They are teaming up with Mozilla, the provider of the most widely used web browser and proponent of open-source software and an open-internet. This should provide p2pu with enough clout for their webcraft certification to be recognized.
    •Currently, the courses are zero cost. As they move forward they may take donations add to your certification for a fee.
    •P2pu plans to be scalable. However, they have already turned students away from their first set of course offerings. It appears as if scalability refers to the ability to offer courses to more students at very low cost.
    Best regards,
    RJ Johnson

  6. This post is a reflection of my philosophy of teaching and learning: a relationship in which the teacher is both the facilitator of learning and learner, and the student is both learner and teacher. The hybrid course seems to be a useful tool in helping students take a more active role in their learning and become more independent thinkers. I especially appreciate the comment about using strategies to help students take more risks in their learning. Using collaborative groups is a great way to help students take risks and learn to become active learners, as well as strong leaders and thinkers.

  7. I am in the process of becoming certified as a teacher and I really have enjoyed reading your blog and especially hearing about this idea of hybrid classes. I like how you have used technology paired with a rich classroom environment. I hope to find a way to incorporate this type of hybrid model to my classroom someday.