Stephen Hayne is a professor at Colorado State University and a faculty member of the Computer Information Systems department. When I interviewed him, Stephen told me about his research and took me for a stroll down memory lane.
Twenty years ago lectures were done without computers. Overhead projectors were the common teaching medium. Transparencies would be written by hand and projected onto a screen from the overhead projector. I actually remember using an overhead projector in high school about seven years ago while some of my classmates were far more comfortable hooking up their laptops to newer projectors. There were a few modern projectors around CSU approximately fifteen years ago, which were very similar to the ones we use today in our classrooms. These projectors were too expensive to really be considered necessary at that point in history. Now, with the passage of time, the way classes are taught has changed yet again.
Today the newest teaching method is the online classroom. This is often seen as the next step for teaching. At CSU’s business school there are several classrooms equipped with cameras to record lectures for online courses. Stephen teaches at least one of these courses for master’s students in computer information systems. Stephen’s online class has never talked to him in person. Phone calls, Skype, and email are the principle means of communication for Stephen and his students. He says it is significantly harder to manage learning for these online sessions as well. Since he has taught for 25 years, I would expect he knows what he’s talking about.
An online class requires streamlined lectures which need to stay on-topic due to time constraints. There is very little extra space for Stephen to change the class schedule. He misses investigating the nuggets of knowledge that can be discussed during a more traditional classroom setting versus an online one. Many of these students learning online have jobs, families, and distance preventing them from having the flexibility offered by a course taken in a physical classroom. These students have to weigh the benefits against the costs of distance learning. Students can take care of families and gain an education from the comfort of their own home, yet are also faced with the distractions presented by studying at home.
The next phase of education may well be the MOOC, or massive open online course. MOOC courses can be found online for free from universities like Harvard, Yale, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They take thousands of dollars to create, at no profit, and may very well lose their popularity in time for this reason. There was a famous one where a preeminent robotics professional taught a MOOC for free. It cost the university a pretty penny to make the course and advertise it. Thousands of people joined the first class, yet less than 100 received a license for taking the course. This lack of determined students has not stunted the popularity of this learning medium. A quick online search reveals there are a plethora of MOOC courses being created even with such a low graduating rate. One day classrooms may very well be obsolete if the MOOC can gain popularity.