This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.1. Classes Taught by a Master
What happens when a pop icon like Christine Aguilera meets an online learning platform? You get a ‘Masterclass’. A master—expert, one at the top of his or her field teaching a craft to others. That’s the rationale behind a new for-profit platform MasterClass.com. The concept is quite brilliant. MasterClass has taken the idea of the MOOC, leveraging a digital technology platform to bring experts to teach courses to the masses. But MasterClass courses appear more celebrity-focused rather than subject-focused.
San Francisco-based MasterClass was founded by David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen on the idea that everyone should have access to genius. MasterClass makes it possible for anyone with an Internet connection to learn from the best through immersive online classes from the world’s most esteemed authors, actors, performers, athletes and more. MasterClass pairs world-class instructors with Hollywood directors and Silicon Valley engineers to create a brand new type of learning experience. PR Newswire, August 31, 2015
The platform launched in May 2015 and currently features six classes with celebrities teaching a subject (not the other way around, e.g. a subject being taught by an expert). For example Dustin Hoffman teaches acting, James Patterson teaches writing, Serena Williams teaches tennis, etc. The classes are fully online, self-paced and priced at $90.
Tweet Below From Masterclass’ Twitter Feed
— MasterClass (@masterclass) August 11, 2015
Insight: I first scoffed at the idea primarily because of MasterClass’ overt emphasis on the celebrity over the educational aspect. But after reading an article by a writer who took a class with James Patterson, I see instructive takeaways for educators and institutions involved in online education specific to technology, pedagogy and instructor-approach. MasterClass’ platform is user-friendly, appealing and according the student mentioned earlier, “extremely well-designed” (Maynard). Active learning seems to be a cornerstone to the pedagogy—embedded exercises in each lesson. For example in Serena Williams’ course on tennis, students are encouraged to take the course to the court and to “submit videos of your forehand for feedback from other students taking the class (and possibly Serena herself!)”. Instructor approach appears remarkably personable—James Patterson for instance through the videos appears engaged in the course and interested in the students. In one video he reads from a student assignment: discusses it, compliments it and suggests how to make it better. Impressive.
- An Accomplished Writer Takes a ‘MasterClass’ From a Gargantuan Selling Writer, Joyce Maynard
2. Emerging Battles over OER
In October an associate professor of mathematics at California State Fullerton University, Alain Bourget, received a reprimand for deviating from department policy by assigning a course textbook different from the department-adopted textbook for an introductory algebra course. The department textbook cost $180; Bourget’s option $75 that included a textbook and a collection of (free) online resources (OER). Bourget filed a grievance over the reprimand citing academic freedom in his defense. The reprimand was upheld, yet Bourget battles on, “I am fighting for academic freedom, lowering the cost of education and especially to give a better education to my students — I will not abandon this fight” (Jaschik, 2015).
Insight: Bourget and Cal State Fullerton’s battle may be a sign of more power struggles ahead over textbooks, though I see it more as an indicator of battles ahead over use of Open Education Resources (OER). There’s been several articles and blog posts about OER of late, and according to the most recent Campus Computing Survey project: “(81 percent) of the survey participants [417 university CIOs and senior IT officers] agree that “Open Source textbooks/Open Education Resource (OER) content “will be an important source for instructional resources in five years.” Time will tell.
- Reprimand Upheld for Professor Who Wouldn’t Assign $180 Text, (2015), Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed
- Free digital textbooks offered as Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill, (2012), Los Angeles Times
- Bad Data Can Lead To Bad Policy: College students don’t spend $1,200+ on textbooks, (2015), Phil Hill
- Colleges Want More Digital Courseware, Fewer MOOCs, (2015), Tony Wan
3. Khan Lab School
Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy has started a new school based upon the ideas put forth in his book “The One World Schoolhouse”. It’s a privately funded, tuition-free school in Mountanview California. There are no grade-levels, and it currently serves children ages 5 through 13, and has expansion plans to accommodate children up to age 18.
The lab school is a school dedicated to research-based instruction and furthering innovation in education. The school has processes and strategies for studying and sharing lessons learned regarding new educational practices.
Insight: I admire and respect Khan for his passion and commitment to education and for what he has done to move education forward by providing Khan Academy as an open platform. I do however, feel uncomfortable with the ‘lab’ concept of his school—the experimental nature of the approach using children, who due to the concept of ‘lab’, inherently become test subjects. In an article in Wired magazine about the school, it describes how companies that donate products or software are allowed to come in and observe children, “the stools and tables were donated by a furniture company, which in exchange gets to observe how the students interact with them” (Tanz). I see so many things wrong with this, besides it being just weird.
- The Tech Elite’s Quest to Reinvent School in is Own Image, (2015), Jason Tanz, Wired Magazine
- Khan Lab School