A Business Technology Place

Flipping the classroom

I have often thought that I would have enjoyed a career in academia.
I loved being a student. For some classes it was the thrill of the material and learning. For other classes, where I wasn’t as connected to the material, I was drawn to the game of education and making the best possible grade. At Georgia Tech, some of the early core classes were graded on a curve, so the game was definitely “on” for top grades.

But as I reflect on it now, I enjoyed more than the subjects, topics, and grades of being a student. It was the whole system of life. In college I had some flexibility in designing a schedule (afternoon classes vs morning) and then chose how to break-up my day. I was pretty disciplined in college so I never had an issue of neglecting course load for social activities. But yet I had time for social activities with a fraternity and other organizations. I could change my study schedule around a little if needed to accommodate whatever I wanted to do on any particular day.

Good students don’t necessarily make good teachers. But I think I could have been a good one. I volunteered as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for eight years and found the classroom environment and student interaction to be energizing. I don’t pretend that teaching once a week for an hour is the same as rigors and challenges for teaching full time. But my teaching experience did fit within my overall enjoyment of the world of academia.

Getting technology into the classroom.
But I chose a different path. I’m a technology guy that keeps learning through reading, discussing, and experimenting. This past weekend I read an interesting article about a school that is flipping the classroom by using video in the out-of-school environment. The idea is to tape the base teaching lesson so that students view the lesson outside the classroom. Then during class time students go through what traditionally be homework exercises alongside the instructor(s).

The problem this solves is removing the frustration at home when the student needs help from the parents, but the material is too complex for the parents to help. In this model the student has direct access to the teacher for help while completing the exercises.

For the teacher, this type of system provides new ways to relay and teach information. They can use different techniques such as labs, lectures, or travel to record the course material. Taping the material ahead of time could allow them flexibility to capture additional items might not be able to in a classroom setting.

Whether or not you agree with this approach is not the point.
This type of frame work still requires discipline on the students part to watch the videos. I found myself asking would a student be more likely to watch a video or work problems at home? But then I realized the bigger picture. This group of teachers is searching for ways to improve education through technology. They are experimenting, as a marketer would do, to measure the success of new teaching techniques. What works for one class (small group of students), may not work as well for the next class. Much of the success and failure of a particular technique will be based on the personality of the class and the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals within it.

As a parent, I totally get the problem this solves. I’ve been in the situation with a high-school student asking me for help on homework. While I was confident I could research and find the answer, I wasn’t able to do it immediately. It’s frustrating for everyone involved. So I applaud the efforts of this teaching team to look for solutions. I like their use of technology and fitting it into a model the students will relate to.

Auburn Distance MBA: Impacts of distance education on the future of academia

I recently finished a distance MBA from Auburn University as a ‘distance’ or ‘outreach’ student.  While I was reflecting on my experience, my thoughts centered around three main points of thought:

  1. What are the primary advantages and disadvantages of the distance MBA program for a student?
  2. What are the defining program characteristics of the distance MBA program for the institution?
  3. What does distance education mean for the future of academia?

This is the third of a three-part blog to record my thoughts on these questions. The first part recorded my thoughts on customer outreach as distance students. The second part talked about defining characteristics of the program. This post focuses more on my thoughts about the future direction of distance education and its impact on academia.

Q3.  What does distance education mean for the future of academia?

From a macro level, I wonder at what point does distance education growth start to take away from the numbers in the traditional on-campus education model?  It may seem far fetched to think of this happening, but consider these trends and factors:

  • High speed bandwidth is becoming accessible to more households.  As of June 30, 2007, the FCC reports 100.9 million lines in the US.  That’s a 55% increase from the previous year.
  • Owning computing devices that can access the Internet is becoming accessible to more households.  Entry level desktops can be purchased now in the $300 range and new ‘netbooks’ are being sold in the same price range.
  • Families with limited funding for higher education or that do not desire to take on large amounts of debt could opt to avoid the extra cost of room and board.
  • More schools are starting to use distance and taping technology for competitive alignment.  I see nothing to indicate this will slow down.  This trend makes the school accessible to more students.

Another thought is that this could ultimately start to move the location of the professors and staff members. Why wouldn’t it be possible to have the professor in a different location than the students? At some point in the future multi-point video feeds won’t seem like such a big deal.

This could even lead to ‘Consultant’ professors who are hired on a per course basis by multiple schools.  Imaging, Professor X is hired by three different schools to teach  Chemistry 101.  From his home he creates the lectures and then shares them with the remote class via some tool like WebEx.  The students can then use the interactive tools to converse with the Professor. Office hours? Think Skype.

A big trend in many industries these days is consolidation of businesses to afford continued growth and gain economies of scale.  Could we see colleges and universities go the same way?  As some schools with lesser budgets struggle to keep up and match the offerings of other schools do they become acquisition targets?  Is this a logical thought?  Perhaps, if you could use their existing space as a satellite campus.  Or if, just as in business, you can gain greater efficiencies of scale and profitability by using the smaller school’s resources.

As I mentioned in the first note of this series, the distance education model doesn’t fit everyone.  But this model hasn’t reached its potential.  It’s only just started to grow.  My view is that it will change some of the fundamentals of traditional education over time. It will become an industry to itself, supporting best practices, uses of technology, process work-flows, and the like. It may not directly impact you, but it will certainly be a factor to consider for your children or grandchildren.

Auburn Distance MBA: Defining characteristics for the institution

I recently finished a MBA from Auburn University as a ‘distance’ or ‘outreach’ student.  While I was reflecting on my experience, my thoughts centered around three main points of thought:

  1. What are the primary advantages and disadvantages of the distance MBA program for a student?
  2. What are the defining program characteristics of the distance MBA program for the institution?
  3. What does distance education mean for the future of academia?

This is the second of a three-part blog to record my thoughts on these questions. The first post about the Auburn distance MBA program focused on reaching out to customers.

Q2. What are the defining program characteristics of the distance MBA program for the institution?

Institutions setting up or running a distance education program must solve logistical tasks associated with the day-to-day operations of the program.  Some of the major tasks include:
  1. Development of  infrastructure for taping lectures. Possibilities include DVDs, streaming video, and satellite campus rooms.
  2. Development of a process  for sending and receiving assignments to be graded. How long will distance students have to return work?  Who will receive and grade the work?
  3. Create a system to allow distance students to participate in class room discussions.
  4. Design coursework and assignments so that they can be assigned to both distance and on-campus students.
Technology is really not a barrier for any of these operational elements.  The challenge is  in defining an efficient process that allows the education to be foremost in the minds of the students and professors. If the process is not efficient or doesn’t work then it takes the attention away from the education and the institution is not accomplishing its goals.
Once the distance education program logistics are set, the institution has a unique program offering.  The program characteristics give the institution new possibilities and challenges. Consider the following characteristics  for distance education:
  1. Creates opportunity to make the  institution name, or the brand, recognizable in a broader geographic area. More name recognition increases the potential base of prospective students.
  2. Creates opportunity to reach a broader and more diverse student audience. Expanding the reach of the institution name can help with finding prospective students for both distance and on-campus formats.
  3. Increases competition beyond the institutions immediate boundaries. Searching for distance students will increase the number of competitors for the institution by nature of expanding its marketing boundaries.
  4. Class room size is not constrained by physical limitations. The limiting factors will be determined by logistical processes to delivery classroom lectures and coursework to students.
  5. Marketing of the program will require a different strategy. Institutions should consider tools and resources used by online professionals.  If prospective students are comfortable with distance education they are most likely comfortable with standard online tools for research.  Elements to consider are search-engine optimization, video examples of sessions, video testimonials, online reviews and student comments,  documentation of program logistics, and method for remote question & answer.

More institutions are offering distance programs.  Business Week lists distance programs in their review and rankings.  http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/rankings

With the advancement of technology clearing the way for distribution of content, I expect more schools to start competing in this space in the future.  I’ll discuss what I think about the future implications of online education in part 3 of this series.