Incorporating MOOC lectures into the flipped classroom

There’s a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Bill Gates’ efforts to encourage the MOOC concept and suggesting that teachers (especially in community colleges) use these lectures in their flipped classrooms (where students watch lectures at night and come to class to do work and seek individualized instruction).  Read the article here: http://chronicle.com/article/MOOCs-Could-Help-2-Year/142123/

I’ve always been a fan of flipped classrooms – I think they probably use everyone’s time more efficiently to allow students to focus on those areas they’re struggling with as well as allowing teachers to give students the individualized attention that the current scheme doesn’t allow them to.  In my mind, though, the flipped classroom would involve the professor videotaping themselves lecturing and then asking their students to watch them outside of class.  I hadn’t considered the possibility that a different lecturer might be talking to the students.  It certainly makes sense – we’re all gifted differently – some are excellent lecturers, some are standouts in research, some are really good at leading confused students to the promised land of understanding.

I think it’s a very interesting concept, but as I read the article I could already see some potential pitfalls.  The author suggests that the most engaging and dynamic professors will be the ones providing the lectures for many classrooms full of students (led by lots of different professors).  In general classes with fundamental information which really isn’t debated anymore, this is probably fine.  But I can just imagine anytime a slightly controversial topic is lectured on, the local professor may well spend a good portion of the class time (that is intended to be spent answering individual questions and helping students with their work) explaining all of the ways in which he or she disagrees with the professor giving the MOOC lecture.  A quick search of pubmed shows that there is a lot of room for controversy and conflict in every branch of science.

Furthermore, a lecturer who has influence on thousands or tens of thousands, instead of tens or hundreds of students has a weighty task indeed.  Being a veterinarian involved in animal reproduction, I can’t help but think of a couple of historic examples where animal industries were enamored with a certain bull or stallion due to a combination of several desirable traits, and bred every available female to him.  They produced lots of offspring with desirable traits, but found out several generations later that those good traits came with some rather undesirable ones.  Maybe I’m being overdramatic.  And I’m probably minimizing the role of the local professor/teacher in this scheme.  What do you think?  Have any of you ever been in a class that utilized this system?

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