“Time has come today.”

3 09 2011

I think it was Dan Allosso who tipped me off to the existence of Khan Academy. At Khan Academy, you see, the time (for homework) has come today. Not tonight. Today. Their big innovation it seems is that students watch lectures at night so that better-tailored instruction can be done during during the day in class time. Wired Magazine explains:

This involves replacing some of her lectures with Khan’s videos, which students can watch at home. Then, in class, they focus on working problem sets. The idea is to invert the normal rhythms of school, so that lectures are viewed on the kids’ own time and homework is done at school. It sounds weird, Thordarson admits, but this flipping makes sense when you think about it. It’s when they’re doing homework that students are really grappling with a subject and are most likely to need someone to talk to.

For all I know, this works great for secondary school math.  However, I didn’t realize that this model had hit higher education too until I went to that seminar on “Making the Move to Hybrid and Online Courses” last week. [Despite all that stuff about “lecture capture” that I read a few weeks ago.] Our facilitator suggested that professors could tape themselves lecturing, put those tapes up on Blackboard, then spend more time in class on other activities.

While I had no particular reaction to Khan Academy the first time I read about it, when I realized that this model might be the future of the college classroom my arm immediately shot up.  My question was, “When are they supposed to do the reading that I assign them?” That’s when I first heard about “guided reading,” which apparently means stopping your every other paragraph to ask questions about what they just supposedly read. Why do this? I was told that professors do this now because students aren’t used to collecting information the way that we’ve always done it.

Maybe that’s the problem. [Here’s the part where I undoubtedly lost all the nursing and business professors who attended that seminar with me:]

There ought to be no doubt that “guided reading” would absolutely kill any kind of narrative. More importantly, how can anybody ever expect to “guide” their students through an entire text of any significant length during three hours of class per week? Come to think of it, when exactly did we give up entirely on reading long texts? People used to get panicked over the poor reading ability of America’s students. Now we no longer seem to care.

Imagine for a moment that you teach history as one darn fact after after another. I don’t, and I suspect you don’t if you read this blog, but imagine if you did. Wouldn’t you want your students to read before class in order to get the facts and context that you don’t cover in class? Suppose they heard you lecture at night. What are you going to do during the day then? Lecture some more? Give more bubble tests?

Now suppose you actually teach history as the literary art it is.  They hear you lecture at night. Are they going to read on their long texts during the day?  What do they need you there for then? Suppose you spend all day working on their writing. Where are they going to hear about other interpretations of the same material? Remember, they spent all evening listening to you. Are you going to spend your in-class time deconstructing yourself? Remember, they can’t make up their own opinions about the text because they haven’t read anything for you.

I just mentioned on Friday to my undergrad majors class how much I love discussions because I never have the same one twice. Even if you ask the same questions (which I don’t), you never know where the answers are going to take you. The great thing about history is that the answer is never “11.” There are always a myriad of answers to every question, and picking the best one is most of the fun.

Run your history class Khan Academy/style and there will be no texts to analyze, no building blocks for arguments, no thinking for themselves. Even in Bible study, there’s always at least one long text to discuss.

I wonder what the Bible is in the Church of the Ramones. I’ll bet you it rhymes.

PS Is there tithing in the Church of the Ramones? I hope not, because I don’t think my current church would mind if I had two religions.


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2 responses

4 09 2011
Middle Seaman

I was at the Church of the Ramones. It’s in Berlin (Germany) inside a small coffee shop and they will charge you 3€ to go inside and watch the exhibit. Which a long a$$ introduction to the question: what do the European do with online teaching?

5 09 2011
Jonathan Rees

That, MS, is an excellent question, and I have no idea what the answer is.

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