On Friday, Nov. 1, TechChange was honored to participate in a panel at the latest Tech@State  conference on education technology, as well as sponsor the informal reception afterwards to celebrate ten years of e-diplomacy. We wanted to share a few thoughts below of the day to continue the conversation online!



Nick Martin (far right) on the Tech@State panel on “Using MOOCs in a Global Context”

1) There is a gap between a classroom and MOOC

Throughout the panel on “Using MOOCs in a Global Context”, the distinction between online education and MOOCs came up repeatedly. MOOCs are a form of online education, but not the only form. And that’s problematic because educators are feeling like they are stuck with a binary choice. However, there are alternatives that we’ve been exploring that allow highly interactive small-group forums. Taylor Corbett (@data4d) of OpenEMIS gave a short ignite talk during the session, and part of us wondered what it would be like if you could instantly go back and watch the talk afterwards or click around content while he spoke, or ask him questions directly in a conversational manner — just as students were able to do in our Mobiles for International Development course when Taylor spoke there only a few weeks ago.


John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design, giving his keynote address

2) Instructional design will be as important as educational content

A recurring theme throughout the day was the increasing significance of design. John Maeda nailed it during a talk that included elements of his previous TED Talk on How Art, Technology, and Design Inform Creative Leaders. We’ve written previously on how content will be vital for online education, similar to what’s happening with Netflix for online video, but what came across was that design will be at a premium for not just what gets included, but how. This is literally a matter of life and death, as Maeda pointed out that Florence Nightingale saved lives of soldiers not with nursing, but with statistics and a clever visualization that influenced decision makers to look at thousands of soldiers dying needlessly in hospitals. We’ve tried to think critically about design in our own work — getting the most information into as few seconds of student experience as possible, such as our logo animation redesign.

105 Alumni

TC105: M4D course alumni hanging out at the e-Diplomacy happy hour at 1776 DC

3) You can’t network over a beer in online education

One of our course facilitators, Graham Lampa (@grahamlampa) brought up an excellent point in our MOOC panel, which is that the informal qualities of education and in-person experiences can be as valuable as the formal knowledge transfer. Until you can virtually “grab a beer” with someone, online education will not be able to replace the informal qualities. However, there are ways to leverage both! We sponsored the happy hour at 1776, where they had tweets from the day on #edip10 and #techatstate displayed on large monitors (courtesy of Zoomph), so that the walls were removed between offline and online content.

Moreover, we had a great time seeing everybody from our classes who we had the pleasure of meeting in person, including our Alumni Beth Ceryak (@bethceryak), Matt, and more!

Did you attend the 2013 Tech@State conference and come away with any other conclusions? Feel free to post your comment below and/or share your thoughts using the hashtags, #techatstate and #edip10.

Last week, TechChange President Nick Martin participated in a panel on “MOOCs and Online Learning” at the AAAS event on “Broadening Access and Participation in STEM Education Through Technology: Promises & Challenges”. The event was hosted by the MaDTECHEd Affinity Group and co-sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Here are some of the highlights from the panel:

  1. Current MOOCs tend to be one-directional and lack meaningful interaction. MOOCs need to focus more on the teacher’s role as a facilitator rather than just a lecturer. However, taking a more social approach to online learning can be difficult to scale.
  2. Students that benefit most from online learning are self-motivated, autonomous, patient, and focused. All panelists agreed that that online learning courses self-select for self-motivated learners. Did you know that the average age TechChange student is approximately 34 years-old? Often, TechChange students are working professionals that seek training to fit in their busy schedules.
  3. Online learning should be social. Online learning has the ability to connect people across vast geographies and more online courses should encourage relationship building and networking. For example, in a recent TechChange course on mHealth, a doctor in Argentina and a health care worker in Uganda shared best practices in mobile health for their respective countries.
  4. Hybrid models that combine both online and offline learning can be extremely effective. Using online learning to complement face-to-face instruction can be the most powerful form of delivery. Salman Khan calls this approach the “flipped classroom” and we’re big believers of this model at TechChange.
  5. Students who pay for online courses are more likely to be engaged. Free and open courses may broaden participation, but don’t always inspire meaningful interaction. Students are more likely to be engaged and give feedback when they have paid for course. Online course providers should think about creating the right incentive structures to increase engagement.

Missed the event last week? Here’s the link to the webcast of the entire conference. To see Nick along with other panelists speaking on the topic of “MOOCs and Online Learning”, you can fast forward to 1:00:35 – 2:32:00.Nick_AAAS2

Big data is already giving us better TV shows. Could it also help build a better education system?

This week our team went to 1776 Reboot: Education Meetup, where we heard from leading experts from Coursera talk about the future of online MOOCs, as well as entrepreneurs from TechStars about applying an accelerator approach to learning. But one of the real stars of the night was Richard Culatta of the Department of Education, who declared that we now have more data about what kids watch on Netflix than how they learn in school.

So what?

When Netflix rolled out House of Cards as all 13 episodes developed on metrics learned over the years from their watchers, Kevin Spacey stated in a Business Insider article:

“It’s a real opportunity for the film and television industry to learn the lesson the music industry didn’t learn. Give the audience what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they’ll buy it.”

In our last post, Four Reasons Why Universities Aren’t Ready to Move Online, we looked at how universities need to invest more heavily in producing compelling online content — not just videotaping professors lecturing. The dirty secret behind online all of the education platforms that are generating the creative chaos around online education is that they are not providing an online education at all, but rather educational content in a structured format. If that’s the case, what can online education learn from the current revolution in content distribution?

In criticizing current approaches to online learning, we often refer to the “Netflix” approach to online education — passive consumption of videos instead of interactive back-and-forth learning. But there’s no doubt that there is a market for passive consumption of educational videos, ranging from the current gold standard of Lynda.com to simply looking up a how-to screencast on YouTube.

  • Piecemeal Content (Amazon). Amazon is a retail company, that wants to also sell digital content. Think of this as purchasing and streaming an episode of Ken Burns Civil War. But are customers willing to buy educational content when there has been hesitation to do so for TV (hence the existence of PBS).

  • Free Prosumer (YouTube). YouTube is a Google product that wants to build general user data. The problem here for users is discovery and quality control — it’s hard to find quality, and it’s hard to find programs of study as opposed to small snippets of knowledge.

  • Freemium Model (Hulu). Hulu is an ad-supported subscription video service, that wants to build interest in existing broadcast content. It’s also perhaps the closest to the existing Coursera and EdX model. While the education is free, they are looking at “freemium” educational models where they can charge for certificates of completion or credit.

  • Premium Distribution Model (HBO). This could be TED talks right now, although those are free — TED controls the vertical by organizing the conferences, filming the speakers, and then distributing on their own platform. The content is often superb, but–like HBO–is restricted in it’s theme and format. HBO is a cable company that happens to be online.

  • Content Buffet + Original Content (Netflix).  Netflix provides on-demand Internet video streaming. Most interestingly, they then used big data from how their users watch other media to figure out how best to deliver its own content.  There’s not a perfect comparison yet, but there are some indicators of what’s to come.

Khan Academy started off with simple YouTube videos of basic skills.  Since then, they have aggregated them into groups with clear skill progression and then allows students to practice with post video problems, which give them an enormous amount of feedback on how well students are learning.  This data not only helps students learn through application of knowledge to problems with instant response, but easily enables Khan to present additional problems to support or remediate weak areas.  And all that data can show Khan how to make an even better experience by combining it with theories on effective learning.

Big Data companies like Hortonworks are trumpeting data-driven education, while new startups like Clever and learnsprout are helping developers get in touch with new sources of data on achievement and teaching.  Even government is getting in on the game.  Led by the Department of Education’s Richard Culatta and the administration’s general open data philosophy, every metric available is being drafted to the use of improving education across the country.  But the metric gathering potential of online learning is even greater.

Brace yourselves: We may be about to see some of the best educational content of all time built on metrics that traditional educators could only dream about. And moreover, since this isn’t just about producing content one time for one show, but for topics that will require constant updating and modification for improvements.

What will your courses look like when your professors are actually producing quality content and A/B testing the heck out of it? When they improve not semester to semester, but week to week?

This post was co-authored with Mike Brown.

Co-authored by Mike Brown.

The future of higher education may be online, but the present is still a mess.

The New Yorker recently published a thorough exploration of MOOCs and higher education. Coincidentally, this piece came out as the same week that my alma mater announced it had failed to fill about a third of its incoming freshman class. Whether a temporary enrollment misfire or permanent disruption of the education system, both the struggles of terrestrial universities and the potential for an online future raise important concerns about how higher education will survive.

Although perhaps not the author’s intention, the article revealed five key differences between traditional teaching institutions moving traditional courses online and courses designed to be online from the very beginning:

No experience in producing online content. The main video editor for Nagy’s course is a graduate assistant who recently defended her dissertation in Greek history, not a Web editor by vocation. Good educational content requires audio, video, graphics, and subject matter to work in unison. Universities are buying platforms like marble mansions and filling them with cardboard content.  But live teaching is hard, which is why good lecturers are hard to come by.  The same applies to other modes of delivery, and with MOOCs, the potential efficacy lost from skimping on the experience will scale with the course, growing linearly, while the cost of getting it right from the beginning is fixed, getting cheaper per person as number of students scale.

No clear teaching or evaluation model. This is still the “let a thousand flowers bloom” stage of online learning, but that has to end eventually. While it was good to see the back-and-forth on the socratic method, without methods of evaluating work, it seems premature to congratulate education on cracking this nut. Multiple-choice quizzes to test reading comprehension will never replace essays, and machines are a long way off from being able to grade 31,000 essays accurately.  But besides peer grading, which is successfully used by Coursera and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s “Around the Globe and Around the Clock: The Science and Technology of the CTBT,” we don’t have better ways of evaluating student progress in depth, as well as breadth.  New models and tools are needed for these subjects.

No clear business model.  It initially seemed unnecessary to take a trip and cameraman to Greece as part of the budget for this course, but if students are willing pay for that authentic experience, then why not?  It may well be that including such edutainment content as shots from the real places, much like the history channel used to do, will benefit students greatly;  what’s most important is that they track how it changes how students engage, and perform further experiments to validate these theories.

No access to social networks.  Perhaps the most telling part of the article was the admonition of universities not just as delivering elite education, but connecting elites with one another into lifelong networks. Emphasis on admonition.  Not only is more data available to mine when students interact in social network type settings, but students and teachers benefit from the collaborative and iterative experience inherent in group-based contemporaneous learning.

Traditional universities are, in the words of the article, standing in front of an avalanche. They are understandably attached to their current model, which they have developed over centuries, but it leaves them vulnerable to the scale-free model of online learning. The prospect of a global audience and substantial cost savings from online coursework is attractive. However, they are poorly positioned to benefit from either without revolutionizing their entire approach.  Universities, in this new age, are facing the classic Shumpeterian forces of creative destruction.  Much like the railroads, which once dominated transport, innovation is placing pressure on their model, and if they remain attached to a model displaced by innovation, they will be destroyed by it.

Are there more ways that universities are failing to keep up with the times?  Are products of e-learning startups falling too far from the educational tree?  Join the conversation in the comments.

When something breaks mid-class it can be awfully hard not to blame your students. But the truth is that nobody cares about the tech you’re used to using or how it works optimally. They care about what works right now.



I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a small, intensive course that revolved around back-and-forth between a handful of students in remote locations and a subject-matter expert. In the second day of the class, our video platform (that had only days earlier managed dozens of participants without difficulty) was already cracking at the seams while students conversed over low bandwidth from locations in Africa and E. Europe. One student suggested switching to Skype, which ended up working significantly better for the remainder of that session.

The reason was fairly simple: Instead of having to use the centralized OpenTok servers in remote locations, the Skype users could connect through nodes everywhere because they themselves were acting as nodes. Skype is essentially a modified peer-to-peer (P2P) network application, which is why Skype works as well as it does in remote areas — you are both the user and the provider for other users of video conferencing.

So, problem solved. Now we just move back to Skype and get rid of our existing OpenTok video platform. Right?

Not exactly.

Online education requires tradeoffs. The more interactive your class, the more strain you will place on your system at scale, which is exactly what Coursera stumbled upon recently during their “MOOC Mess“ as they tried to provide a facilitated format to 41,000 students. Online education gets lumped into one category, but ultimately 1-on-1 or small discussion sessions are entirely different experiences than facilitated workshops or massively open online courses (MOOCs). Since we try our hardest to be platform agnostic, we’re always looking for new ways to engage students via video while always looking for a better web-conferencing platform as needed. Generally, this is has created our current rule-of-thumb for class size and video conferencing:

  • Under 10 students: Skype Premium (especially in low-bandwidth)

  • 10-150 students: OpenTok (but works fine for low-bandwidth with video toggling)

  • Massive: YouTube or Vimeo (use forums or such instead for asynchronous engagement)

If you’re looking for an off-the-shelf solution for holding a small webinar or sharing your taped lecture, you’d be hard pressed to do better than Skype or Vimeo/YouTube. We hold occasional webinars on Skype and host our educational video content (and animated videos) on existing video platforms, which we then share in our media library. But our problem has consistently been that we believe good educational learning and a “flipped classroom” model to exist somewhere between the two models — more than a webinar, but not quite a MOOC. And that scale is achieved not by speaking at an audience of 50,000, but by engaging an interested 50 online in as close to a classroom-like format as possible. That’s why we’ve gone to such lengths to build a customized video streaming solution in OpenTok for our students. Still, it’s good practice to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the options, so we wanted to share some of our thoughts below on the relative advantages of each platform:




Requires download

No download required

Clearer and more responsive real-time audio chats of 4-10

Flexible real-time chat of 1-50 (simultaneously publishing, up to thousands viewing only)

Login required (SkypeID)

No login required

No administrative controls

Enable / block speakers as needed

No optimizing for high / low bandwidth

Client-side toggling of video

Proprietary format

Open API for custom integration


That said, we’d love to hear from you. What has worked well for your organization? Please let us know in the comments below if you have suggestions.


Our OpenGov 101 Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a Semifinalist in the Knight News Challenge! Submitted in partnership with Global Integrity, we’re hoping to develop a global curricula to connect the open government community with the tools, experts, best practices, and organizations driving the field forward. While we still have some skepticism of MOOCs as a cure-all for online education and believe there are many ways to improve how MOOCs are executed, in this case we believe a MOOC format makes sense.

We believe the challenge for OpenGov isn’t just making new tools to open up governments, but empowering citizens to use those tools to pursue accountability and transparency. After all, open data has little value if people can’t use it (according to the Harvard Business Review), or as we put in our introduction to our Digital Organizing and Open Government course:

But don’t take our word for it. There are a number of very cool finalists in the remaining 40 in the refinement phase, so head on over and check them out if you like. We’ve left applause and feedback for a few already!

If you’re interested in contributing to our submission, here are three easy ways to get involved:

1) Celebrating #OpenGovDay on April 8.


April 8 marks three years since key provisions of President Obama’s Open Government Directive were due. We think this is a big deal worth celebrating – but we want to hear what you think.

This week, tweet @techchange or use the hashtag #OpenGovIs to tell us what open government means to you.

Then – on April 8 – join our Tweet Storm by following and using hashtag #OpenGovDay throughout the day. We’ll be retweeting the best #OpenGovIs submissions to amplify your voice – and we’ll be offering special deals on our new class – Digital Organizing and Open Government.

2) Feedback or Applause on our Submission

While “applause” won’t affect our entry’s chances of winning, it will give us a chance to see who finds our project interesting and give us a chance to reach out. If you have a comment or feedback, we’d love your ideas to refine and clarify our submission for the next phase.

 3) Talk with Your Organization about Partnership for the Day.

Watch this space, but we’re looking for institutional partners for the day. Let us know if you’re interested! Just tweet at us or leave a comment on this post. So far we’re proud to have organizations joining us such as Open Forum Foundation (@open4m), CrowdHall (@crowdhall), OpenGov Hub (@opengovhub), Global Integrity (@globalintegrity) and more!

Reports of the demise of the American educational system have been greatly exaggerated.

According to the New York Times, 2012 was the Year of the MOOC with the emergence of edX, Udacity, and Coursera as education providers, tearing down the walls for top-tier universities and providing free access to Ivy League professors and curriculum to a global audience. In another piece, NYT Columnist Tom Friedman breathlessly predicts:

“[A] day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world — some computing from Stanford, some entrepreneurship from Wharton, some ethics from Brandeis, some literature from Edinburgh — paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion.”

But there are fundamental limits on what a MOOC can accomplish at scale when introducing student interactivity. As we covered in a recent post (What Can We Learn from Coursera’s “MOOC Mess”), online education requires tradeoffs. You can broadcast a video or self-paced module to 41,000 students without difficulty, but things get tricky quickly if you start introducing group exercises without planning ahead.

However, there is a growing consensus that these massive courses are simply the future wherein top-tier universities will claim a global audience for rock-star professors while mid-range universities will be squeezed out of the picture. If we assume that the future of online education looks like a MOOC, then that is a reasonable assumption: You and your children will sit at home and watch videos, click through quizzes, and call it an education when you receive your degree. Mid-range universities won’t compete to pay $50,000 per course (the average cost of setting up a MOOC) without a globally known faculty, so why try to compete with the big players?

As currently designed, MOOCs fundamentally privilege existing brands. Universities want to establish multi-year partnerships with large tech firms to leverage their globally recognized name. However, edutech startups are starting to provide another answer for mid-range universities. A recent Guardian article (Are edutech startups plugging an innovation gap in our universities?) revealed a different path forwards for education during an interview with Victor Henning of Mendeley:

The recent boom in edutech startups, says Henning, reflects the fact that universities no longer need either to buy in bulk or build everything from scratch. Instead they should use their time and resources more wisely by collaborating with smaller companies already working on new software solutions, many of which have their roots in the higher education sector.

If true, then this provides another way forward for non-Ivy League universities: Don’t compete as institutions; compete as classrooms. Rather than multi-year deals for hundreds of thousands of dollars to compete for a global market you can’t possibly win, look to empower your teachers with the ability to teach online classes with video conferencing, social networking, and group projects by embracing a host of different tools provided by a variety of edutech startups.

The consensus is right on one thing: The Ivy League universities are going to win on name recognition. They will provide engaging videos to millions around the world that share the one-way “sage on a stage” lectures of their top-tier talent to lock in an unproven MOOC business model. But that’s no guarantee that their professors will be able to provide the most engaging course format. Universities that embrace this current tech chaos by empowering their professors to work with a wide range of startups may just find themselves ahead of the pack.

As we explored in a blog post last July (Three Questions to Ask As Universities Incorporate Hybrid Classroom Pedagogies), professors like Dr. John Boyer of Virginia Tech have managed to push the boundaries of the classroom using widely available tech like Twitter and Skype. While educational tools are advancing at an ever-increasing rate, the pedagogical challenges for incorporating their possibilities have hardly changed. Universities should embrace those challenges, rather than looking for a tool to solve them.

Are you interested in learning with TechChange? Check out our next class: Digital Organizing and Open Government. Class starts April 15. Apply now.

We make no secret of it at TechChange: Our staff are huge fans of Coursera. This innovative organization absolutely deserved to win TechCrunch’s Best New Startup of 2012 and are the gold standard in the growing field of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). And so I was really looking forward to taking the Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application course. Which is why I was a bit taken aback to receive this email on February 2nd.

I won’t go into this one course’s many problems here, but if you’re interested, Scott Jaschik wrote a superb article for Inside Higher Ed: MOOC Mess. There’s also a detailed breakdown of what went wrong from the student perspective on the Chewing Thistles blog: 24 hours – A long time in online learning. As providers of online learning, we wanted to capture some thoughts about this kerfuffle to see what we can learn about the field as a whole:

1) Collaborating ain’t easy. Much of the course’s criticism centered around using groups and collaboration tools like Google Spreadsheets (which has a limit of 50 simultaneous editors) for a class of 41,000 students. That’s not just a Google problem, as even the more flexible hackpad (our current favorite) has a concurrent editor limit of 250 students. But even if you could solve this problem with a technical solution, the organizational difficulty of structuring and facilitating exercises won’t go away. And that’s fine, because….

2) There are inevitable trade-offs between scale and interactivity. The great part about MOOCs is that they can easily disseminate content to tens of thousands of students — which is important since they can cost upwards of $50,000 to make due to the level of time and video production needed. But once you start to increase the group collaboration, interaction with facilitators, and more, you run up against staff constraints as well as technical constraints. And that’s tough because…

3) Quality control is hard for both content and facilitation. We like to say at TechChange that an online learning experience is really three services in one: A user-friendly online platform, interactive content, and relevant facilitation. Take away any of those pegs and the whole thing falls apart. When your platform consists of pre-recorded videos and automated tests, it’s much easier to manage at scale than when you’re facilitating group activities, which is a problem because….

4) If you’re asking for somebody’s time, it’s not free. There’s excitement about what “free” means to expanding access to education, but time isn’t free — there’s always an opportunity cost. And frankly, if you’re going to have a subject matter expert engage directly with students you’re going to eventually need to compensate that person for their time and expertise. And that’s fine, because many students will be willing to pay for that more interactive experience, which is why you need to…

5) Listen to your students, especially when they’re upset. Unlike Coursera, we do charge our students for access to courses. If you think people are upset when a free product fails, try experiencing the result when they’ve entrusted you with their hard-earned money. That feedback loop can change when universities and educators are the ones buying your classes, but students are the ones taking them. If you’re at Coursera and want to try experiencing this class from the point of view of one of your students, one article well worth reading is: How NOT to Design a MOOC: The Disaster at Coursera and How to Fix it.

Ultimately, Coursera still has a wonderful catalogue of free upcoming courses and will hopefully find a balance between quality control and student interactivity. But perhaps the most beneficial takeaway is the recognition that students and teachers are partners in the process of advancing the field of online education.

Students can always teach “experts” how to better run a course — even when everything goes as planned.

As K-12 teachers experiment with iPads in the classroom, Twitter streams in the backchannel, and TEDtalks as the new textbook, university professors are figuring out what to make of massively open online courses and how it will affect their classroom. After reading the barrage of stories this past year on new innovations in education technology, from the flipped classroom to edX, I began to wonder why K-12 teachers reported feeling empowered by the new technologies while massive open online courses (MOOCs) seemed to pose a threat to all private higher education institutions that’s so indecipherable most are unsure how to react. Why were stories on the flipped university classroom so rare this past year? With our upcoming course on Social Media and Technology Tools for Research in mind, we wanted to find a model that was actually leveraging tech tools in a way that was improving higher education learning on a broad scale.

We found Dr. John Boyer of Virginia Tech, who has been innovating and enlarging his World Regions classroom for the past decade. When he started he was in a classroom of 50 students using an inherited world regions textbook that leaned heavily on Western history. Now he is in a 3,000 seat auditorium, using the 6th edition of his own textbook and a companion website for digital and social media content that more than twenty other universities have adopted. We came across him in the same way that many have–through his plea to Aung San Suu Kyi for a Skype interview (which she agreed to) and the ensuing visits from Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, and Invisible Children’s Jason Russell. “We hope to have President Obama visit, which would make a lot of sense for him. Why wouldn’t he want to have 3,000 screaming university students tweeting and facebooking his interview?” He told me that those celebrity visits are not planned in the syllabus but come about organically, which also reflects the nature in which he adopts technology into the classroom.  From my chat with him I gleaned three questions for university educators to ask themselves as they adapt hybrid classroom methodologies.

1. Will it improve communication between the professor and students?

Effective teaching depends on the way that information is communicated to the learner. Professor Boyer literally brings his curriculum to the fingertips of his 3,000 students on his website, plaidavenger.com. While his textbook may cover very recent issues in its sixth edition, the website covers global news and issues of the week. Students can easily scan video interviews, articles, and twitter streams and they can earn credit by participating in class dialogue over social media networks.

In a class of 3,000, students can easily feel distanced from their professor, but his online office hours and regular availability on Twitter and Facebook provides a safety net of communication. In my worry that he was online all day and night communicating with students he reassured me, “just a very small percentage actually use it and having the safety net of knowing it’s there satisfies the rest.”

2. Is tech interaction built into the syllabus?

As opposed to traditional pedagogies where students start out with an A and then lose points as they respond incorrectly, his students start with nothing and are rewarded for each activity they complete. Grades are determined by gross point accumulation and students can choose the way they want to earn those points. They can go the traditional route and take standard tests, fill out atlas quizzes, and write papers, or they can earn it through interacting with world leaders on Twitter, commenting in global news reports, or listening to podcasts.

According to an article in The Atlantic, flipping the learning model in the university setting in this manner leads to more personalization of the learning process. Professor Boyer’s exemplifies this by allowing the student to choose the assignments (not a single one is required, not even tests) that fit their learning method best. From the start of the semester, students have the flexibility and the accountability to complete the class how they want to.

3. Am I offering technology that students already use or can easily start using?

Virginia Tech is not only at the fringe of the flipping the university classroom, but physically it’s at the fringe of an urban-rural divide. Located in Blacksburg, Virginia, 60% of the town’s 42,000 are students and many come from rural communities. Students may not be used to many of the newest apps or devices. “I would love to start using foursquare to have students check in for attendance but I’m pretty sure only 1% of my students even know what it is,” Dr. Boyer told me. Despite some limitations, he is able to use quite a diverse tech toolset in his class. He uses (most links go to the unique class page) Delicious for bookmarking articles, online discussion forums on the class page, international movies, iTunes U, Skype, UStream for online office hours, Turntable.fm for their class international playlist, and one of my favorites, PollEverywhere, is used to instantly poll to students on what they want to learn that day. These tools offer a plethora of options rather than required tools to use so that the students can involve themselves in the way they like.

Each of these questions asks what kind of options do the students have to learn the material and how they will be awarded for it. The hybrid classroom puts more accountability on the student to take the time to learn the subject matter, but also allows them the freedom to choose how they want to learn it. Dr. Boyer is evolving his classroom depending on the way that his students use technology and not the other way around. It won’t be long until university students are expecting the hybrid “flipped classroom” experience, especially when they have come from high schools that have already been implementing it.


If you are interested in international peacekeeping, consider taking our next course, Social Media and Technology Tools for Research, starting Monday, August 20th.