Update From Brett

Two New Ways of Teaching (and Learning)

"Learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn." - Peter Drucker"

In our last Annual Kickoff, we talked about being more involved in the academic mission of the university. A pair of websites that I have been visiting this year demonstrate changes in teaching (and learning) that are worth examining. The websites are KhanAcademy.org and Duolingo.com and they represent totally new modes of instruction.

I think the Khan Academy is amazing. What began with a Wall Street hedge fund manager using video chat to help his nieces and nephews with tough math classes, evolved into the Khan Academy, a not-for-profit website with the goal of providing free world-class education to anyone anywhere.

In the course of building the website, the founder, Sal Khan, created easily digestible 10-minute video lessons, which can be downloaded or re-watched many times. Students begin with basic algebra and can advance all the way through calculus. As students master each level, higher levels are unlocked for them to attempt. The ever-expanding library of videos also covers biology, chemistry, physics, finance and history.

What makes the Khan Academy even more revolutionary is the incorporation of modern features such as real-time statistics showing a student's progress and areas of need for additional instruction, a knowledge map that demonstrates how each learning milestone forms pathways of greater understanding, and achievement badges that take advantage of gamification concepts to inspire students to strive at a greater pace.

Schools are starting to incorporate this website into their curriculums. My daughter's elementary school is planning to adopt the Khan Academy in some form. Educators can use curriculum maps to monitor the progress of an entire class and offer proactive assistance to each student's specific area of need. Users can also sign up to be coaches on the site, where they can work one-on-one to answer questions or respond to queries posed by students in the comment areas of the videos.

The Khan Academy has delivered over 132 million lessons to students and continues to expand each day.

Another exciting concept comes from the site Duolingo.com. But first, some background…

"Captcha" refers to a method of online authentication where a website presents users with a mangled-up word that they must retype to prove they are human users and not automated programs mass-creating web site registrations, for example.

In an effort to harness the millions of captcha entries made each day, Captcha2 was created to present users with a pair of misshapen words: the first being the actual authenticator and the second being something else entirely. The second word is actually a picture of an error indicator that could not be translated by optical character recognition (OCR) software. Once enough users translate the error indicator into an actual word, that data feeds back to the OCR program to validate the error.

This concept of trading useful work for useful gain has been taken to another level by Duolingo.com. Duolingo offers a free trade…they'll teach you a foreign language and you'll help them translate the Web into all languages.

Utilizing Rosetta Stone-like language teaching techniques, such as reading, visual, and audio exercises, Duolingo then asks you to translate portions of a foreign-language website into English. Over time, they will aggregate the responses from the people  doing the exercises and develop a "confidence level" to offer that translation back to the person who wrote the original webpage.

What is so great about this concept is that we again have this notion of a content map, online instruction, and multi-modal learning with game mechanics, concepts similar to the Khan Academy but now with an international focus. Although this site is in the early stages of development, I believe there is a lot to see here.

I would love to find a partner at Emory who would be willing to make a content map and load this up as an experiment to see what our students think of this Duolingo concept. Would they even do it? If they did, could we run a randomized trial of students who have access to this site versus those who do not and compare their grades to see if it enhances learning outcomes?

We cannot assume that educators can easily keep pace with advances in IT. I hear that some schools are banning smart devices in the classroom because students are ignoring the lectures and are instead facebooking or gaming. The challenge for educators is to adapt technologies to their ends and to provide information content that is engaging enough to keep the students learning. We must find ways to develop classroom content into other modalities.

There are emerging interdisciplinary programs, at Emory and at other higher ed institutions, that rely on mastery of knowledge from different academic areas. Without a strong foundation in these core areas, no new understanding can be developed (just as a house built on a weak foundation cannot accommodate a new level). Duolingo and Khan Academy are efforts that do not take the place of professors; they merely provide supplemental mechanisms for student learning. It is the still the professor who must help a student develop mastery. In this sense, professors must come to accept a much more active role, with many more tools, in helping students document and assess their proficiency.

It's easy to understand things like acquisition strategy in healthcare and see how it affects our mission. It is not as easy to understand how higher education might be changing. We don't often hear about educational trends in the news, but that doesn't mean they are not happening all around us.

Nobody wants to change. But when change is thrust upon us, what will we do? We must find ways to adapt.

- Brett Coryell, Deputy CIO, OIT