Thursday, June 2, 2011

Model for Learning Improvement Using the Reverse Classroom-Part II

Implementing the reverse classroom for any subject requires a lot of work and planning.  It is not as easy as going to a class and opening up  your notes and lecturing.  We will try to show how the reverse classroom instruction can be created for all disciplines, but we will start with a few general principals that support the conclusions raised in part one of this paper.

Generally, the longer the presentation, the more a student will be challenged by cognitive overload.  Studies show that breaking up course materials into chunks that are small enough to be assimilated in one study session or one class session will be best for student mastery.  So, the shifting of lecture to an online environment cannot be the simple video taping of a one hour classroom lecture.  The material covered in a one hour face to face lecture needs to be broken up into pieces that are manageable and the comprehension of the material presented must be assisted by what we will call pre-quizzes.  We will start out with the assumption that an effective presentation must be no longer than 15 minutes and preferably closer to 10 minutes and that the presentation must be accompanied by questions that test for understanding.  The identification of gaps in understanding, as revealed by the pre-quizzes is crucial to the implementation of the reverse classroom. We will describe the process in detail.

Online Components of the Reverse Classroom
What we require is an effective method of transferring classroom presentations to an online format.  Preferably the online format includes audio, video, written and interactive features.  Developments in web technology have made it possible to record what occurs on a computer screen and convert that recording into a video that can be hosted by sites like YouTube, TeacherTube or Vimeo.  Although videos of a teacher lecturing may be interesting to watch, the content that is being presented may not be easily visible in course that relay on a lot of board work for presenting ideas and solving problems as in math and science classes.  In these types of courses, the ability to write on the computer screen to show problem solutions and to present ideas and concepts is essential.  Students must be able to easily read what you are writing.  See for examples of this type of screen casting.  Software and hardware tools to accomplish this type of presentation are now easily and cheaply available.  Although all courses can benefit from some writing on a computer screen, analogous to what a teacher might write on a chalk board in a face to face classroom, the unique nature of math and science courses make this type of presentation particularly important.  Using powerpoint slides to present history lectures, and simply writing in a word processor for teaching writing in English or recording material that requires your responses for a foreign language class are all ways in which screen casting can be used to shift classroom presentational components to online screen casts.

The drawing tablet made by Wacom and other manufacturers is particularly suited for writing free hand on a computer screen and recording it in a screen cast. Camtasia, (free) and others allows anyone to use screen casting software and make an up to 15 minute video.  Hosting for the videos with YouTube, TeacherTube, Vimeo allows you to embed or provide links to the video.  Using a drawing program like Simple Draw,  Xournal or MS Word, you can use the Wacom Tablet to write while the screen casting software will record what you are writing and your voice as you explain what you are writing.  A 10 to 15 minute presentaion of a concept with an associated pre-quiz will allow students to view, rewind and replay as often as they need to be able to master the material and show that they  have mastery by answering the questions in the pre-quiz.

Google Docs allows the easy building of pre-quizes using forms.  The form is the front end of a back end spreadsheet.  As students fill in their name and answer the questions of the pre-quiz, the responses go into a spreadsheet which the teacher can view and check each student for mastery.  The face to face session of the class can then provide the help needed while students engage in further practice.  The pre-quizzes allow students to practice what they are viewing in the screen casts.  The pre-quizes should be sufficiently challenging to take the place of a homework assignment.  The real homework assignment that may involve many odd or even problems can be done during class.  These assignments done during class can be required and are to be passed in at the end of the Face to Face session.

Another component of the reverse classroom is the discussion using essential questions.  There is a huge body of information and examples that show how to use essential questions in discussions related to all subjects.  Even in math and science discussions can center around problem solutions.  In these subjects paper and pencil solutions to  problems seem to be the best way to proceed as they are the simplest tools to use and will not impede the flow of the student's thinking process. By posting images of paper and pencil solution and commenting on the solutions by filling in the gaps in the process, Math and science can be involved in meaningful discussions that improve and strengthen learning for the student.  A new tool for discussions, VoiceThread, allows students to post a photo or scan of a paper and pencil solution and record a verbal description of the solution using nothing more than the microphone built into a laptop or an inexpensive headset with mic and a cellphone camera to take the photo of the paper and pencil solution.  The thinking behind using Voicethreads in math and science that students who explain solutions to problems then to understand them better.

In summary, the components that are required to implement the reverse classroom are:
Screen casts
Written and Oral Discussions
In class practice with required assignments and assessments

Monday, May 30, 2011

Model for Learning Improvement Using the Reverse Classroom-Part I

Although there aren't many studies, the ones that do exist indicate that classes that combine face to face with online components are the most effective. However, simply adding online activities to your classes will produce, more interesting, but mixed results. What's needed is a proven pedagogy for best practices and techniques that use the best of what is now possible for both face to face and online learning. The reverse classroom is a model with rigorous online activities that complement and improve on the face to face classroom. We can't improve education by doing random online activities that are not substantive. While the Reverse Classroom is a powerful model for education, it is still a transitional model.  Face to face education is undergoing a transition to online learning forced by economic and other social  pressures.  If an online school has developed a model for education with excellent teachers that produces better results than the local brick and mortar high school can offer with its decaying infrastructure and dwindling financial resources, the choice may not be immediately obvious, but it will become so in the near future.

If we assume that mastery of a subject requires the embodiment of skills, facts and methods that lead to the creative production of artifacts unique to a subject, then the face to face and online activities need to be structured to achieve the end desired. In the weeks ahead I will outline in detail how to use face to face and online learning in a way that leads to the rigorous mastery of many of the subjects currently taught in schools. Moreover this model can be successfully extrapolated to higher education producing far better results than the current face to face lecture approach.  In this context, an artifact refers to a problem solution, the understanding and written explanation of complex processes in any of the sciences, the analysis of social, economic, literary or historical documents leading to the formulation of written arguments that successfully support, defend or argue against a position, about a subject,  creative writing about any topic and similar requirements for all subjects taught in schools today. I will attempt to describe, in detail, the face to face and online activities needed to accomplish these results for all the major subject areas taught in schools today.
Cognitive Theory.

Working memory is a brain system that draws from experience in the form of long term memory and the environment to understand complex concepts and situations typically presented in a classroom.  Working memory can be overloaded.  Classroom activity can involve lecture, visual presentations, group work, discussions, hands-on work and more.  While class related activities are going on, the environment brings its own stimuli in the form of distractions from other students, visual, audio and random thoughts which draw our attention away from the class specific activities.  Anyone who has sat in a class trying to understand math, science, history, English or any other subject can remember the many influences that continually compete for our attention.  Our minds wander, our attention is distracted by another student, lectures continue and we have missed an important statement that would have helped us understand the present statement, but that  link in the chain of the lecture is no longer available.  We can ask a question, but we feel that might be construed as inappropriate so we let it slide and our understanding falls behind.  When we are confronted with assignments or tests, we have gaps in our knowledge of the topic and our study session, assignment or test is correspondingly lacking in completeness and mastery.  Some students have better working memory than others.  If the teacher is skillful, she will be able to keep the students attention and establish an emotional connection with each student that makes them want to remain engaged.  We also know from learning research that successful understanding that is capable of reproducing and going beyond the topic require repetitions and continual effort on the part of the student.   From brain research we know that understanding involves the formation of complex neural networks in the brain.  Synapse connections among neurons are made and broken continually.  The more complex and abstract the topics the greater the number of connections needed for mastery and the greater chance of loss of understanding or memory due to breakage of synapse connections.  Study establishes synapse connections and repetition strengthens the connections so that they are not easily broken.  Many factors go into establishing connections that are lasting.  Some of these factors are physical and take the form of electro-chemical interactions in the brain, others are emotional or environmental and they are all interrelated.  The process of education should take into account all these factors and optimize techniques to facilitate lasting understanding.  Students learn differently.  Some respond well to classroom lectures, some do not.  Some understand math well while others do not.  The type of brain chemistry that leads to understanding in various subjects are different.  It is an incredibly complex process and it is no surprise that with the limited understanding modern cognitive science has of these processes, our educational system lacks systems that can lead to more equality of learning for all students.
The reverse classroom is a model that reduces cognitive overload by removing the presentational lecture and explanation process from the classroom and shifts it to an online video that can be played and replayed by students.  Classroom activity is reserved for homework, tutoring, peer to peer learning and activities that reinforce and complement the presentational components of the class.  However, simply transferring the lecture to an online video will not achieve the optimal results we are seeking.  Putting a 40 or 50 minute lecture online is  not what the reverse classroom is all about.