Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Online and Distance Learning: What We Should be Thinking About in Education

The wave of the future?  I'm not sure.  What is certain is the democratization of knowledge in the google era.  That's a good thing.  Below is a link to one look at a possible future.

Link to NYTimes Article on Massively Open Online Courses

I don't have a well-formed opinion of online courses today, and in a broader perspective of the role of technology in the math classroom.  It's okay for us to not know answers today as a profession, while at the same time it is NOT okay for us to ignore technological advances.

I would say that math classes today mostly look like they did decades ago.  Some of the differences are fashion, color textbooks, and demography.   That could have been said about brick-and-mortor bookstores just when Amazon, et al were getting started.

Another thing that is for sure is an increasingly rapid change in technology and its usefulness across society and in particular education.  Perhaps ironically for the scientific community the transition away from lecture will not be due to the data collected by education researchers.  Rather the changes might be the fact that we have to confront competing against the "best lecturer in the world in my profession."  Imagine the most dynamic, thoughtful, and articulate person in your field.  Then that person gets recorded by Hollywood caliber videographers giving the same lectures as you would.  At that point, then what does your class offer that can't be obtained for free or more conveniently?

I'm not sounding an alarm bell here or trying to stir up fear.  The point is that knowledge transfer is one generation of technological advance (or perhaps less) away from becoming trivial.  Add in improved interaction via video chat, and a few other features and then the experience of the classroom can be essentially recreated.

Coaching team sports, for example, doesn't seem threatened in the same way by technological advances.  This perhaps hints at what educators at the college level need to embrace.  What is it that we provide as an experience that cannot be learned from books or a set of online videos/classes?