Archive forMarch, 2012

Consumption vs. Production

cross posted at

Since we opened High Tech High, we have had the mantra with technology that we are about “student production, not just student consumption.” By this we mean that students have many opportunities in life to consume more and more media and technology. Merely having a school where students consume even more content is not what we need. Instead, we think 6th graders should write a picture book about Ancient Egypt for younger children, 10th graders should write a book explaining connections between chemistry principles and major world events, seniors should create a “multimedia exhibition exposing hidden paradigms, underground cultures and unresolved issues,” and juniors should build launchers to study the concept of projectile motion.

When I think about what is happening in the area of blended learning, I wonder about student consumption and production. I mean, I like Khan Academy and MIT open courseware as much as the next person. But if blended learning means kids sitting in chairs consuming content off the internet, I wonder if we have progressed as far as we need to. I wrote about one promising example of students creating something in an online course. I am interested in more examples of this nature.


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Project based learning in an online course

cross posted at

I have written earlier about the free online course from on computer science I am taking with high school students right now. One aspect of the course that I did not recognize at first is that it is actually a project based course. It is not a “computer science 101″ course. It is a “learn to make a search engine in 7 weeks!” course (and by the way, you will learn computer science 101). The difference is subtle but significant.

When I heard about a course on learning to make a search engine, I thought, “Cool! I want to learn how to do that!” and I signed up. Imagine if the tag line had been:

Course Objectives:

  • Gain a breadth of understanding about computers and Computer Science.
  • Gain ability at developing algorithms for problems and improve logical thinking.
  • Learn something about a specific programming language (Python) and use it to write computer programs.

In fact, the course objectives above are pretty close to exactly what we have been learning in the udacity “build a search engine course.” But there is no chance I would have signed up to take the course above. Framing matters.

Why do we have to learn this?
At High Tech High, we have a design principle “real world learning” or “adult world connection.” This means that we try to design learning experiences so that students see a purpose to what they are learning. Udacity’s search engine course is aligned with this principle. They could have said, “Well, take four years of courses with us, and at the end, you will know how to do something with all this knowledge you’ve acquired.” But they didn’t. Instead, they have started teaching us the basics, but immediately in the context of getting us ready to create a search engine. For example, in week one,  we needed to write a computer program that searches for something. We could have searched for anything, but in the udacity class, we learned to search for a link on a webpage. It was obvious to me why I was learning to search for a link. It wasn’t just some exercise that the instructors were assuring me would help me “later in life.”

Designing online courses that capture some of the best aspects of project based learning would be a step in the right direction.


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Udacious learning

cross posted at

This fall, I enrolled* in the free, online, Stanford artificial intelligence course. For me, this class was a watershed moment. I have followed the development of many online courses over the years. I have often felt that the courses are really just a textbook copied onto a screen followed by a multiple choice question that asks you to recall what you just read. In other words, 19th century pedagogy, but it’s on a computer, so now it’s really exciting. In contrast, this Stanford course had a number of features that make me think very differently about what is possible in an online space. For example, although as a teacher I would really prefer smaller class sizes, I was surprised that a class with 160,000 students could lead to more learning than a smaller class would.

As a result, when I learned that Sebastian Thrun, one of the professors from the artificial intelligence class, had created a new free online university ( and is offering a new online course this spring in computer science (tagline: create your own search engine in seven weeks!), I immediately signed up for the class. But then, as I thought about it more, I thought, “I bet there’s some students in our schools who would be interested in this course too.” I had started to compose an email to all the high school math and science teachers in our schools telling them about the course when I thought, “You know what, I should take this on myself.”

A few weeks ago, I met with a group of juniors and seniors at High Tech High International and made the following pitch. Join me for 7 weeks. We will all take this online class and will support each other through a study group that meets twice a week. We’re going to learn some computer science. We’re going to learn something about how we do or don’t learn in this environment. A bunch of students said yes. I am going to post about what we are learning.

* I can’t say I “took” the course: with full disclosure, I did stop working on the class in week 4. Life interfered, which could be the subject of another post.


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Blend my learning

I’ve been invited to contribute to a new/revitalized blog on online/hybrid/blended learning called “blend my learning.” I will be cross posting my posts here and there.

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