Today’s popular culture is often mediated by rapid publishing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as other websites like The Huffington Post and Reddit that provide pre-digested, readily accessible information. Across the country, college students are some of the most active contributors and consumers of these platforms. How might we leverage these online experiences to improve learning here at Stanford?
One researcher, Karin Forssell, hopes to bolster in-class learning by tapping into the possibilities of digitally mediated learning. As Director of the Learning, Design, and Technology MA program in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford, Forssell teaches educational technology design courses like “Technology for Learners” and “Innovations in Education: Designing the Teaching Experience.” At a recent meeting of instructional designers at Stanford, Forssell presented a talk entitled, “Using MOOC Materials to Explore How to Make Classroom Teaching More Effective.” In the talk, she explained how she hopes to study three related physiology courses to answer some questions about how incorporating online tools into the classroom could enhance face-to-face learning, and in turn suggest designs for outstanding virtual learning environments.
Over the course of the 2013-14 school year, one environmental physiology course will be offered in three different formats by Professor Anne Friedlander. Forssell is collaborating with Friedlander to study each one carefully to analyze which features of digital tools are most useful for producing targeted learning outcomes. The first version was Human Biology 135, “Exercise Physiology”, which took place at Stanford and was made up of mostly of juniors and seniors.
This fall course was a blended classroom that incorporated some of the technological elements that were developed for the second version, the winter quarter’s massive open online course (MOOC) available through Stanford partnership with OpenEdX. The MOOC has already attracted some 6,500 students and is called “Your Body in the World: Adapting to Your Next Big Adventure.”
The third version of the course will be a fully online class offered in the spring quarter only to Stanford students.
Friedlander and Forssell believe that if we can interest students with a “hook,” a short, catchy video that delivers introductory content knowledge, before having them attend a more traditional lecture, then both students and instructors may be able to access higher learning outcomes. To test this hypothesis (as well as many others), they separated the HumBio 135 students into Group A and Group B and exposed them to different ways of approaching the material.
For example, on a certain week covering the topics of how the body reacts to cold and heat, class was cancelled and students were told to watch the lectures online. That Tuesday, students in Group A were instructed to watch a short video "story” about TA Corey Dysick enduring the cold before watching the lecture on what happens to the body in cold conditions. Students in Group B watched only the lecture. For Thursday’s topic on heat, the groups were reversed: Group B was assigned to watch a similar "story" about Corey getting hot before watching a lecture on how the body reacts to heat, while Group A just watched the lecture. The next week, all students returned to class, took a quiz, and were polled about the experience in general.
If Friedlander and Forssell are right, those students who watched the video story first would be more likely to have strongly engaged with the lecture material and, therefore, to have performed well on the quiz. The final results are not yet in, and Stanford’s instructional designers are waiting with great anticipation to see if the power of the hook is as great as we think it is.
What is already certain, however, is that the research Forssell is conducting at Stanford has the potential to help us all better understand how students’ learning outcomes are influenced by technology. A highly productive learning atmosphere can and should be the fruit of (at least partially) digitally mediated classrooms.
To enroll in the course featured above in the promo video, please visit the course webpage and click the button to register. Registration is free and open to all. The course runs from January 13 to February 25 and should take about two to four hours of effort each week.
Anna Koester Marshall is a doctoral candidate in Iberian and Latin American Cultures.