Over and over for the last 10 years, I have heard people say online learning will kill the teaching profession, learning objects will kill the teaching profession and now flipped classrooms will kill the teaching profession. I think I bring a unique perspective to this argument because I came to teaching through an unusual teacher training program in the 1970’s. My teacher training was focused on small group learning, problem solving, discovery learning and individualized curriculum to bring up basic skills. Then, in my 30’s, I discovered computers as an individual teaching tool.
I wasn’t confronted with lecture based teaching methods until I went to graduate school in my 40’s. I deeply hated the experience, but I conformed to the university culture where every conference and every large classroom experience is exclusively lecture based.
To my deep shame, lecturing has now become a deeply ingrained habit, but I still hate it. If the job of teachers is to help students learn, then lecturing is an incredibly inefficient way of doing that. I feel like a horse buggy driver among spaceships. So let’s look at alternative definitions of teaching.
Teaching at a Distance – MOOC’s vs. Videoconferencing vs. Desktop Collaborative Learning
To date, I have participated in two Stanford MOOCS with over 500 people and been deeply disappointed. There was minimal interaction with teachers, poorly developed curriculum and mass chaos as 500 people tried to organize themselves into task groups. Clearly these course needed good teachers desperately.
My university has invested heavily in videoconferencing programs that project lectures to distant locations. I have participated in and observed many of these sessions and I have never seen an engaged audience at the other end. I see students eating, talking to their friends and engaging with their computers but I don’t see them engaging with the faculty or home-based students even when the instructor is interacting well with the f2f students.
I used to participate in online desktop sessions using a tool that allowed participants to communicate through audio, chat, small group rooms and whiteboard tools. I saw people deeply engaged. Contrary to the myth that you don’t need a teacher, it was the teacher presence and interaction with the audience that made these classes so engaging. I don’t understand why medicine is one of the only training programs not using this technology.
The best examples of flipped classes in medicine that I have seen involve students using a variety of resources to learn the knowledge component of a course. Teachers create that content, teachers curate resources created elsewhere. Teachers decide what reasonable workloads outside the classroom are. Teachers have office hours to meet with students who are struggling with fuzzy concepts. Yes, it’s a different role from creating and reading PowerPoint slides, but it is clearly all about helping people learn.
The role of the teacher freed from listing facts in a lecture becomes a facilitator of Higher Order Thinking. Learning through cases, experiences, patient stories, problem solving, resource sharing and formative assessment will engage your brain as well as the students when you enter the flipped classroom.
Curation as Social Learning
Curation means gathering, evaluating and providing access to X. One of the cutting edge roles of teachers is to curate knowledge resources online to share with students. Dr. A.M. Cunningham has one of the best examples of this here. The next level of curation is to make the students your curators by having them share resources with other students. This is called Social Curation and it still requires a teacher to facilitate, and assess the process.
Teaching is one of the oldest professions. It just needs a new wardrobe for the twenty first century. So medicine, let’s shed the 16th century lecture robes. Help me break a bad habit!