Asynchronous Communication Benefits of Online Learning

What is a classroom?

What is a classroom?The answer used to be pretty straightforward: “a room in a school where lessons take place.” Online students for many years have decided the physical location of their classroom, but beyond issues of location, there is still much to be discussed about what constitutes our definition of, and perception of, a classroom.

Salman Khan’s talk – called “Let’s use video to reinvent education,” filmed at a TED conference in March 2011 – shares some interesting developments in online-augmented face-to-face instruction. Salman discusses the unexpected ways that Khan Academy videos are being used to revolutionize traditional instruction in face-to-face classrooms (and he’s tracking them via a Los Altos, California, cohort of two fifth-grade classes and two seventh-grade classes).

The students’ “homework” is to watch the video of a standard lecture – at their own pace, stopping and restarting as needed, and escaping the dreaded stare from the instructor. In class, students work through traditional homework problems. Instructors spend their time one-on-one with students, identifying problem areas, addressing knowledge gaps that were preventing movement forward to the next concept, and helping the students master the curriculum, both individually and as a group.

A dashboard shows every student as a row, every concept as a column. As the students work through the problems, the instructor can see who’s proficient in a topic, who’s having problems, and – most importantly – the concepts where each student needs help. As Khan puts it, “The teachers can actually diagnose what’s wrong … so they can make their interaction as productive as possible.” Khan goes on to say, “By removing the one-size-fits-all lecture from the classroom and letting students have a self-paced lecture at home… these teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom.”

What is a classroom?Khan’s study gives just one concrete example of how face-to-face classes positively benefit from the differentiated learning offered by an online/video component.

So, then, what is a classroom to you? Does the instructor need to be front and center visually for you to get that classroom vibe? Is it important to see an instructor’s face, or is it enough to hear her voice and/or see her real-time markups on that day’s presentation notes? Do you like the idea of being tested frequently, online and in real time, to gauge your mastery of concept points as you move through a given week’s curriculum?

What’s been lost and what’s been gained in the new classrooms that are emerging?

If you enjoyed this post, check out its companion piece, “What is a teacher?”


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