Stuck in the Mode

A table for your consideration:

Traditional Course Online Course
Lectures Lecture Videos
Written Homework Online Homework
Discussion Section Discussion Board
Talking with friends in dorm Meetups
Talking to professor E-mailing professor
Lab Sections Simulations
Clicker Questions Checkpoint Questions
Artistic Critique Peer Evaluation
Recess Stand up from the computer and go outside

Now, as an exercise, place these things and list the equivalent:

  • Peer instruction, done by the book
  • Trust falls
  • Meeting in an environment with customizable avatars.
  • Seeing your student’s emotional state on his or her face
  • Doing things you don’t want to do, without being a single click away from leaving
  • Having wikipedia available when you answer every question

We can list dozens of things from in-person education that aren’t there yet in online education, and just as many that are potentially possible in an online arena that we can’t get in-person. Online education has exceptional potential. I think it has just as much as analogue education.

I think we’re strangling online education.

People sometimes ask me what I want to do with my career. I often tell them of the time a colleague was telling me about the differences between Harvard and MIT. While listening I had a vision that I was standing before an apple farmer, informing me as to the differences between a Braeburn and a Macintosh. See the stripes on the Braeburn, and the shading on the Mac? Taste the flavors of them, the grain of the fruit, the feel of their skin on your teeth. “These are such unique things!” says the farmer. “So different from one another.” And meanwhile, I dream of steak. I dream of shrimp bisque, of buttered raisin-bread toast, of black-pepper-carmel tofu, of red curry with butternut squash, of whole world of food. I dream of a thousand kinds of education, not just the orchard we have now, bright as the apples may be.

We make education small by restricting it to lectures in a classroom. We make our online courses weak by restricting ourselves to the classroom analogy.

What do I want to do with my career? I want to explore and help create the larger world of learning and education. There are thousands of people who grow apples, and their pies and applesauce and cobblers and Waldorf salads are quite delicious, but I crave wider things, and I think other people will be the better for tasting things other than just apples.


About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on August 12, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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