When I look at the education sector and how it has changed even within my short lifetime, I can do nothing but stand in awe as the changes continue to reverberate and send shockwaves throughout the globe.
Just recently, I was invited to take part in a large educational project in Turkey to deliver something that hadn’t been done previously, at least not on such a massive scale.
My team flew to Ankara and started to work on the infrastructure architecture as well as custom software development that would see Turkey’s entire 16 million student population supplied with tablet devices running the latest Microsoft Windows 8 operating system, including the highly-anticipated Metro user interface.
In addition to the tablets, the initiative also required that classrooms be fitted with touch-sensitive smart boards (running Windows) which could be wirelessly controlled by the teacher. The teacher was also able to control the student’s tablets, lock them down when needed, enforce access to resources as well as project any tablet’s screen onto the smart board.
What the Turkish government is trying to do is quite ambitious and a real game changer for the education sector. I won’t delve into the technical challenges, but I would like to comment on the areas of research that were of interest to me during the project.
Our research had us combing the vast ecosystem of educational content, connecting with vendors, laying down best practices, experimenting with new technologies and literally redesigning systems to operate in new and innovative ways.
As is usually the case with such initiatives, the amount of research required to solve the many unknowns was quite immense. But the breadth of interesting facts and gathering the collective knowledge of what others are doing in the education sectors was simply astonishing. People around the world are finding new channels of content delivery, new methods of teaching and discovering revolutionary solutions to old problems.
The advent of the Internet and HTML already foresaw the demise (at least in part) of the traditional paper-based textbook. But we are now facing a complete shift in how the classroom is being used. With the availability of high-quality video and audio on sites such as YouTube or Vimeo, anyone can upload tutorials and lectures on topics that were previously reserved to Ivy League institutions.
Recognizing the future demand for such services, these online giants are amassing educational content at an ever-increasing speed. YouTube, in particular, has even started a separate initiative called YouTube EDU which gives the viewer access to a “broad set of educational videos that range from academic lectures to inspirational speeches and everything in between.”
I watched a 60 Minutes special which talked about the Khan Academy and how it’s changing the face of learning, and all the while, doing it for free. I hadn’t previously visited the site, but shortly afterwards it became obvious that the quality of lecture content was on par, if not better, than reputable and well-established schools.
During a TED talk titled: “Let’s use video to reinvent education“, Salman Khan showed the power of interactive exercises, and calls for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script — give students video lectures to watch at home, and do “homework” in the classroom with the teacher available to help.
The key message here is that the student no longer must endure lectures at prescribed times at the convenience of the teacher or school. The student can learn on demand at any time that is convenient, rewind, replay, bookmark, download and delve deeper into any subject. Time in the classroom can now be a special event which allows the student more time to truly collaborate with the teacher and address issues that were not able to be solved during the online lecture.
I was interested in the quality of the content, and truth be told, I haven’t touched calculus for a good 20 years — this would be a good litmus test. I pulled up the pre-calculus content and was able to keep up without any issues. I then jumped to a 15 minute lecture on derivatives and integrals, and although my memory was fuzzy with some of the more advanced topics, the way it was delivered allowed me to quickly recall my long neglected skills.
Khan Academy isn’t the only organization that is delving into this type of content delivery, but unlike other distance education courses, it does it for free, albeit without the diploma at the end. More recently, initiatives by MIT, Stanford University and University of California also address such a need — quality university-level courses delivered for free.
Happy (r)e-learning :)