Last quarter I taught EFSLANG-693B, an advanced listening comprehension and discussion course for international graduate students. I have written about my efforts with the media in that class before, and wanted to follow up with a few reflections on the most recent iteration.
As we approach the end of the academic year, there is often a tendency to look for ways to assess how we have done and what we should do next year. One of the easiest tools for doing this is the survey, but I would suggest that querying network and software logs might give a more accurate picture of what is going on. At the very least, there is a strong argument that we really should take advantage of the resources we control before we start asking students and faculty who might have time to report what they think they can recall about their computer use. Below are a few questions that might be answerable, followed by some guiding principles behind them. These lists are by no means complete, but hopefully they give a direction that might be productive. The basic idea is to get a more accurate picture of how the learning management system (LMS), clusters, and other university controlled resources are used in order to possibly find opportunities or lacks that could be addressed.
On one level, this post is about Quizlet, a tool that I use in a couple different ways, but what I really hope to convey to readers is an approach that I am taking in my curriculum and how I implement that with both high and low tech, or online and traditional technology.
With the holiday season and the year end approaching, I thought I would share some ideas for things that I’d like to have, and that might be useful to a lot of people, just in case someone has a few million dollars that they don’t know how to spend. I should start by expressing my gratitude for the attention that the CourseWork team is giving to some long-standing (and recent) needs, including an upgrade to the hot-off-the-presses Sakai 2.9, so hopefully we will have some solutions for the following at some point in the near future: improved materials upload, possibly eventually leading to drag and drop, improved page load times, and video embed from URL/embed code. But there are still quite a few things rather larger things that I am hoping for in the future. Some of these can be easily solved by existing applications, which we just don’t have here at Stanford. Others are a bit more pie-in-the-sky, and possibly have even broader implications for the direction of instructional technology. So here is my wish list, roughly in order of need (most is first):
Several weeks ago, at the second discussion session for the 2012-2013 Tanner Lectures (the topic of a previous post), in his opening remarks Prof Andrew Delbanco commented about how online teaching may make rock-stars out of some professors, but relegate others to “stay-at-homes”. However, also added that “For other faculty members — those teaching languages in particular — the prospect is for near or total obsolescence. Your French teacher may be a version of Siri on your smartphone.” I have to admit that I was not terribly surprised by this type of prediction, even from someone who has so much at stake in the non-technical aspects of education. At the Language Lab in Meyer Library, we regularly get visitors who are looking for software to teach them Italian or some other language in the few months that they have before they go to that country. These otherwise intelligent people are shocked to hear that Stanford would not install a magic computer tool that will impart the gift of tongues to them. We usually suggest that they walk about 200 yards to the Bechtel International Center to look for a live native speaker who might be interested in a language exchange.
Whenever we hear about MOOCs or, more generally, how technology will change education, one of the benefits that is usually touted is how we will be able to apply “learning analytics” to student work. The idea is to extend Big Data to the classroom: every right answer, every wrong answer, every communication, every click will be analyzed to help teachers and students move ahead. We’ve seen how Google uses this approach to serve us ads, and now Amazon is mining our e-book data – reading list, type of book, time on page, etc. So it has to be right, right?
Last week I had the opportunity to attend both lectures of the 2012-2013 Tanner Lectures on Human Values, “The ‘Cost Disease’ in Higher Education: Is Technology the Answer?” by Professor William Bowen and both discussion sessions, which included Andrew Delbanco (American Studies, Columbia), Howard Gardner (Graduate School of Education, Harvard), John Hennessy (President, Stanford), and Daphne Koller (Computer Science, Stanford). The lecture series page contains links to the full text of Prof Bowen’s talks, as well as reviews in both the Stanford Report and the Stanford Daily, so I will try to focus on my own observations of the sessions related to online learning, Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, rather than a detailed accounting of what went on.