Report from the front lines

From U Va.:

[University President] Sullivan has an ambitious plan to retool introductory courses as “hybrids,” replacing much of the human labor with technology and freeing professors to focus on higher-level classes. Her initiative would go further than most elite universities have dared in replacing human instructors with software.

The story is here.


"freeing professors to focus on higher-level classes."

Yeah, that showing up once a week can be a real hassle.

ZMP Professors have nothing to worry about.

They have tenure.

I'm all for online learning applications, but I think students will miss out on class time and those wee bits of discussion here and there that make the information they accumulate relevant.

I would have thought that the lower level courses is where you truly need the good teachers. By higher levels, you need near-experts, but the students themselves have presumably developed the sorts of study habits that would let them take full advantage of online learning, with the caveat that they are possibly at too high a level of study for it to be worthwhile developing courses that are good enough to bother taking, with the exception of some fairly standard courses such as grad school level micro and macro. I'm curious to see how this experiment works out though ... perhaps the results will be fantastic, or perhaps they will attract students who are in the best position to take advantage of such tools. Why not let students reveal their preferences though, by offering both versions and seeing which they choose?

No news from the GMU front?

In the golden days of the Scottish universities, it was the professors (i.e. roughly the Heads of Department) who taught the freshers, on the grounds that this was the most difficult teaching. Inexperienced young men could be asked to teach the later years.

Ignoring comments from the trolls, I would say this is a promising direction because students would benefit from professors reallocating their time toward more tutoring and Q&A rather than chalk-n-talk. Students can read and listen to lecture material, and then meet face-to-face for discussion and clarifications. As some are now doing, you can have students working on problems while the professor walks around and answers questions individually.

Such a sea change has to be forced, because most students find it to be more work (sitting and listening is easier), and most professors would rather have happy students. But if it comes from above, you just have to go along with it, and eventually students may find they are learning more than they used to under a chalk-n-talk system.

Note that for small classes (fewer than 30 students, say) the traditional format is probably fine.

Re: "students would benefit from professors reallocating their time toward more tutoring and Q&A"


Have you ever looked at academic office hours and the frequency of students using this for tutoring and Q&A?

Terry Sullivan was one of my profs in grad school. She was exceedingly conscientious of student needs and the responsibilities of teachers. I am very curious about the programs that will come out of this UVA effort. Her incrementalism (that got her into hot water with the UVA board to begin with) might be a virtue here.

Similar to what Jack is saying, lectures are so devoid of interaction they might as well be recorded. The hybrid with more structured interaction could have interesting results.

How about recorded lectures with built-in Q&A facilitated by TA's? That is, 3-4 times per lecture the video pauses with a list of discussion topics.

Classes would still be in a classroom, optionally allowing some students to participate via Skype?

There are a number of Learning Management Systems (or LMSes) out there that do this. Blackboard, for instance, which is one of the better known learning management vendors, offers a product that lets instructors lecture via video in real-time with an interactive, electronic whiteboard and multiple break-out chat rooms for student discussion. TAs can facilitate discussion during or after the lecture, however the instructor prefers. Instructors can also share their desktops with one or more students to let them manipulate, e.g., an Excel spreadsheet that the instructor has been working in. Not every LMS is this sophisticated, but there's some quite creative stuff out there.

I just wonder how this is gonna fit on SACS or COC accreditation programs. SACS is ISO-like standards for universities.

I still wonder why all universities try to be the same by working under the same standards instead of trying new stuff. some "smart people" got the idea that they know who to do some stuff (higher ed) and the make a profit by selling the know-how and selling useless standard compliance certificates.

If there is a higher ed bubble/crisis why everybody tries to follow the same old standards?

I am trying to think were this leads and where it doesn't;
Most schools like UVA likely would not let you get a whole major online. Maybe some courses could be online, some hybrids, etc. So then you have this model where online coexists with traditional course. What are the incentives to the school? May not need to hire as many faculty, so that cuts costs.
Other ideas whcih way this may go?

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