Tag Archives: Khan Academy

Sal Khan: Flipping the Classroom

In this video, Salman Kahn presents the logic of “flipping” the classroom, where the lectures all happen at home and what used to be called homework is done in class.

There are several disruptive implications to what Khan suggests.  Here’s a smattering of examples:

  • The traditional idea of a “class” no longer has meaning.  Instead, students will be organized in smaller working groups.  Even if thousands of students are enrolled in the same course, these students might never “see” everyone else enrolled.  They might interact in person with only a dozen or so students.  So we see that in a flipped classroom, the idea of “class size” is indeterminate.  Enrollment might be huge, but working groups small (a little like the lecture/recitation or lecture/lab model that exists now).
  • Students will need different kinds of infrastructure.  The big lecture hall is configured to allow a single lecturer to broadcast a message to several hundred students at once.  On-line videos do exactly that, making the large lecture hall obsolete.  Instead, students will need work tables, multimedia labs, couches, projection screens, whiteboards, and collaborative spaces.
  • Meeting spaces will no longer need to be collected into campuses.  They will need to be dispersed all over the world, like hotel chains.  In fact, they could very well BE hotel chains.
  • Assessment will become less the purview of an expert Instructor, and more peer- and network-based — like Amazon reviews or ebay ratings.  To acquire credentials, students will likely still need some traditional assessment instruments like exams, but these will no longer be administered at a single place, at a single time.  Like the SAT’s, they are more likely to be administered in testing centers, at periodic intervals.
  • Printed books may not be entirely obsolete, but clearly they are a poor mechanism for adapting curricula to changing needs, emergent phenomena, or incorporating network-based technology changes.  Electronic books and blogs will increasingly replace the required textbooks that are now the norm now.
  • It’s not clear exactly how an education model such as this would create the dense population center necessary to support an NCAA D1-A football team.
  • The cost of education is going to come way, way down, but it won’t be entirely free.   Tuition might move closer to a subscription model (like Netflix) where students pay a weekly fee for access to a certain amount of content on-line, rather than a per-credit-hour fee paid every semester.
  • Universities are not ready for this.  As the lead Instructors that have mastered the new education platform become more productive, there will be less need for those Instructors that have not.  Tenure guarantees will come under serious threat, and new Ph.D. graduates without network-based education skills will increasingly face poor job prospects in the US.
  • As the learning experience changes, so will the expectations placed upon students.  They will need to accept more responsibility for their own goals, structure their own problems, organize much of their own work activities.  Learning will become increasingly social, even as students are viewing on-line content (seemingly) in isolation.  However, the social interactions will not be exclusively in person.  Much of this interaction will be happening through information-communications-technology.  Despite the fascination that the Millennial Generation has with social media, students today will not know how to meet these new expectation.  They will need some training.

We’re increasingly going to experiment with the flipped classroom model in CEE300.  And because the world does not need people to solve the same homework problems over and over again, we’re going to migrate the learning activities towards more real-world problems in engineering finance (of which there seems to be no shortage).  As the expectations change, so will the relationship between the Instructors and the students.  The challenges the students face will no longer be the pedantic exercises designed by the lead Instructor, but instead the real questions faced by the group.  This will require the Instructors to do more coaching, and less gate-keeping.

This last point is likely one that separates a flipped University classroom model from the Khan Academy model.  If the Universities get this right, every classroom experience will seem more like research.  That is, it will generate new knowledge, instead of merely passing on the old knowledge.  It will be creative, inquisitive, multi-disciplinary, and produce things that are of value to society — some of which will be marketable.