Designing Open Materials Intentionally for the Blended Classroom

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One of the interesting things that is going on right now is that MOOC providers, unable to find a path to sustainability in the direct-to-consumer market, have now positioned themselves as providers of materials for campus-based flipped classes, part of a larger trend Amy Collier and I have been referring to as the "distributed flip".

I'm glad to see some of the focus is now at on helping the 70% of American high school graduates who enroll in college to have a more engaging and educational experience, one that might lead to graduation rather than just debt. But why would materials that were developed for massive, fully-online classes of self-learning adults be suited for use in the blended classroom?

I mean, they *might* be. By accident. But is that what we want? It reminds me of those scenes in Better Off Ted where the failure to create a successful food product leads to the sale to the military of some type of weaponized pudding.

What might materials developed explicitly for the blended or flipped classroom look like? Oddly, in another part of MIT, they've got some experience in this. The BLOSSOMS project at MIT was started explicitly to look at how video might be used effectively in the blended classroom. Here's a short clip from BLOSSOMS. If you play it to the end (it's a 90 second clip), you'll see that the presentation is designed with the expectation that some work will be done in class. Some physics of linear momentum is demonstrated via a round of pool, and then an unexpected problem comes up -- "How can linear momentum be preserved if both balls move (in different directions) after the cue ball hits?" The presenter on the video then suggests this might be a good time to stop the video and discuss this question in groups.

I don't think it's particularly revolutionary -- on the contrary, I see it borrowing a lot of lessons from past uses of video for education. But there's nothing wrong with that, IMHO.

You can argue that you don't need video to do this. I think that's correct. Video is one way, but there are others. If you flip through Dan Meyer's blog on math education, for example, you don't necessarily find traditional "blended education materials". But you *will* find a community of people designing high-impact activities for the classroom that use simple prompts. I love this activity about "stacking cups" for example:


As Dan points out, this builds off a simple image, and escalates. Moreover, it's an image that you can create yourself. It's an image that puts you in the frame.

I've talked about this before, but the Open Education community and Silicon Valley tend to think we need more educational resources. And to a certain extent, we do. But if we are going to support blended learning what we probably need most are good teaching resources. Stuff that helps you be awesome in the classroom. Stuff that builds in insights of hundreds of people running these activities, and turns it into iteratively improved activities that set your classroom on fire.

Stuff that leaves room for you to be in the frame.

At InstructureCon I had a great conversation with Jared Stein on something I had seen in a couple of distributed flips using video lectures of other teachers (MOOCs and otherwise). Faculty lost credibility with the students. In the case at Keene State, one faculty member got very harsh evaluations from the students who felt the faculty member should be doing their own lecturing.

I initially saw that as typical student resistance to active learning. And a lot of it probably is. But the more I've talked about it with people, the more I come to the conclusion that it's not simply that.

You see, xMOOCs and other OER are often designed to remove face-to-face teachers from the equation, not to make them more awesome. The were designed to assert that the authority comes from this self-contained experience. When xMOOCs are used for blended learning, the classroom is not a partner in that effort -- it's more a housekeeper, there for the tidying up after the real work is done.

You can design against that, and you will. But why should you have to?

If you're considering fueling a blended learning revolution on your campus using MOOCs, it is worth thinking about this. One of the best ways to increase student learning is to help your teachers excel at what they do. Are the materials in a traditional MOOC really going to do that?

Or are they going to write your teachers out of the frame?