One of the biggest changes in the medium of education of the recent times was brought about by Salman Khan of Khan Academy’s fame. It was his famous concept of “flipping the classroom” which has been discussed over and over in recent times, and has been further popularized by a growth of a plethora of courses that are offered online by both academic and non-academic institutions all over the world. The impact of this growth can be just emphasized by the following example – if you want to learn about developing a simple mobile app, you don’t go to a class or an institute which offers this course anymore. You just log in to one of the many portals of online courses that have sprawled over the last few years, create an account, choose the course and start learning. In fact some of the portals will offer you a verified certificate after completion of few course objectives. And this is specifically what Sal Khan envisioned – bringing the classroom to your home.
The benefits of flipping the classroom can be experienced in many forms. Let me share two such benefits with my readers today. One of the courses that I teach in the university I work for is Applied Statistics. The prerequisite of that course is Introduction to Statistics, where the students are taught the basics of central tendency and probability theory. To teach the advanced topics of Applied Statistics, students need to have a good level of expertise on the basics of the prerequisite course. So for last few semesters I have trying out a new simple change to the curricula of my course. For the course I maintain a website with links to Khan Academy’s statistics lessons, based on different topics. So my method of delivery in the class is very simple – whenever I am starting a new topic, I simply put out the very basic concepts that are necessary for a student to understand the things that I am going to teach in class. And then I give them the directions to the Khan Academy’s lessons for these basics. This makes it easier for me to ensure that the students have a basic understanding of the topics that I will be covering in the following classes, and also makes it easier for me to focus on the applications of the advanced tools. Granted that many of our students are not as dedicated as we would want to be, but given the simplicity of the instructions in the Khan Academy’s website lessons, most of them do make an effort to go through the basics.
Another benefit of flipping the classroom concept that I have reaped over the time as an educator is the massive globalization of teaching material and approach through the introduction of MOOCs. The full form of MOOCs is Massive Open Online Courses, and these follow a very similar model to that of the Khan Academy – a set of lessons, assignments and quizzes designed to give course-taker sufficient information and develop good enough expertise in a certain subject. Beside statistics, I teach Operations Management and for a semester I taught Financial Risk Management to my students. Now these are courses a bit higher in terms of difficulty and are naturally taken by seniors. I have completed my masters in the related fields and have had research experience in these fields as well. But when designing the course materials, I took the help of not only the course materials that were used to teach me, but for Operations Management I used an online course of Operations Management offered by Wharton School of Business in the platform of Coursera and for Risk Management I took the help of Financial Computational Risk Management offered by Columbia University in the same platform and Credit Risk Management course offered by Delft University of Technology in another platform known as Edx. Now my experiences of developing courses with the help of online materials have made me realize something very interesting – flipping the classroom does not only make life easier and better for a student, but it does help a lecturer as well. Specifically if helps us develop a curriculum with the state of the art concepts, quote very recent researches in the relevant area and help us structure a course similar to that of these very reputed institutions. It makes us updated and helps us to instruct our students more effectively.
I believe we are just scratching the surface of this flipping the classroom concept, and that these are just few of the many benefits that are going to follow. Also I believe we really need to consider few questions about the future of education, how can both the online and the campus education be merged to make the best use of both the student’s and the faculty’s time, how could we improve the education of a society or a country with the concept of flipping the classroom and how close are we to really bring the classroom to our students. I believe that an appropriate answer to these questions can actually bring about an online education revolution or what I fondly call “a MOOC revolution”.
Writer: Faculty at North South University