The End of Education’s Industrial Age

Education_gearsLet’s briefly cover the history of American industrialization. Its relevant, I promise.

In the wake of the the industrial revolution, ideas about optimizing the manufacturing process had begun to surface in an effort to increase productivity. One promising tactic was to condition specialized employees by assigning each a specific role in the manufacturing chain. The result? Efficiencies shot through the roof.

Naturally, schooling was a logical starting place to begin grooming a competent – and “skilled” – workforce. American public education was just being popularized and centralized, making it possible for previously disenfranchised children to get an education. To accommodate the influx of students, schools optimized the learning process in industrial fashion: run them through information, assess performance with standardized evaluations, and certainly don’t let questions and individual curiosities stray from the course. Classrooms soon reflected the assembly lines their students were being prepared for.

The workplace has evolved, yet education is still frozen in the industrial mindset – it has become clear that this is simply not how we learn. “Learning happens in the minds and souls,” says Sir Ken Robinson in an interview from The Guardian, “not in the databases of multiple-choice tests.” The education system born from the industrial revolution dehumanizes the learning process. But teaching, as we’ve come to see, is not an exercise in engineering the mind – it’s an art. An effective teacher is not one with a quick turn around, but one who compels a variety of students to connect and engage.

Flipping the Classroom to Humanize the Student

The flipped classroom affords educators an opportunity to directly engage with students. With readings and lectures taking place at home, class time is now reserved for real pedagogy, which, Robinson stresses, is the “heart and soul of teaching”: connecting with students’ strengths and limitations, making the content relevant and interesting to them, and inspiring genuine curiosity.

My company, StudySoup, recognizes that technology is vital to re-imagining the next generation of educators. In spite of the growing number of Open Educational Resources (OER) available today, teachers still spend the lionshare of their time planning courses, choosing content, and regurgitating it to their class. Only if there’s time left in their day can they directly engage with students, answer questions, and lead collaborative excervices.

Bridging the gap between digital content and pedagogy can be accomplished with appropriate technology. The task of collecting, creating, and delivering content can be made more efficient with smart software and a network of educators. This leaves more time for teachers to do what cannot be automated – teach.

Putting Technology to The Test

The flipped classroom is a simple and intriguing idea with a plethora of persuasive arguments The talk is good, but can it walk the walk? Occasionally, industries in distress will impulsively grasp at trending solutions and technologies. But no theory (or technology, for that matter) is ever perfected on paper – you must implement, gather data, improve, and repeat ad infinitum.

Recently, Russell Mumper, a Vice Dean at the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, conducted a flipped classroom study on a first-year pharm class over the course of three years. Though admittedly a loosely controlled experiment, it is the first glimpse at the possible impact of a flipped classroom. The findings, published in Academic Medicine and The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, and reported in The Atlantic in a critical look by Robinson Meyer, showed that students in a flipped classed demonstrated improved performance.

Meyer is right to mention the study was funded by an ed tech company, and therefore may come with some bias; but researchers agree that the findings demonstrate some real value in the flipped classroom. Teachers could gauge student engagement in real time while doing problem sets during class, and gave students more compelling reading to do at home. One researcher mentioned the possibility that improved grades came simply from students doing more work. Another suggested that, since students were working on problems in class, they were indeed working harder, but spending less time procrastinating and cramming.

At the very least, starting this conversation will help guide technologists to figure out what the true problems are and how to better solve them. We’re keeping close with teachers we work with to be sure they shape the technology we’re building – after all, teaching the next generation is not a science of numbers, but an art.

Note: This piece was originally released on EdReach.


Lose the Pen

Create Monetize-Graphic

Note: This piece was originally released on EdTechDigest.

If I tell you there’s a practical problem with education content, you might think: “Ah yes, another piece about the price of textbooks and the tyranny of MOOCs.” You’re not wrong. But these are only symptoms of a larger, digital revolution that’s taking place in education today.

As the industry pivots to digital, innovators and educators are changing the way we think about course materials altogether. How do faculty decide what materials to use to teach their students? With rampant accessibility to information online, who has the best textbooks and materials for my students? How do I know the information I’m giving them is actually useful?

Print isn’t the whole problem

When Seth Godin, legend of marketing and business disruption complains, people listen. A rant on textbooks is expected from any student, but Seth’s clearly defines the problems and why the market is ripe for disruption. Here’s my takeaway of his three main problems:

Price – No brainer; just plain too expensive.

Effectiveness – Students rarely rave about a captivating textbook.

Utility – While education is dynamic, textbooks are static, heirlooms of a pre-digital world.

His article (read it here), written almost four years ago, holds true to this day. The textbook industry has such a stronghold on the market that materials have become fairly stagnant. And as Big Publishers scramble to provide students with digital solutions, they manage only to put lipstick on a pig and leave much to be desired. What the vast majority of publishers call digital content today is a basic scan, a Frankenstein digital copy of a pre-digital relic. Albeit cheaper, this option is sold under a veil of greater utility, with little variety. This will not be a successful business model for our big publishing companies down the road.  As the vast treasures of the Internet’s free content spoil students, companies in the education publishing field must adapt to survive.

The latest push of edtech products is addressing Seth’s three main points head on. This means not only providing low-cost, high(-er) value solutions to all corners of the world, but partnering with educators to bring education content up to 21st-century standards. So what will surface when the clock strikes and textbooks are forever a thing of the past like the once omnipresent Encyclopedia Britannica? I don’t know. But as a recent grad, tech geek and entrepreneur — I can venture a guess.

Customizable Course Content

In due revolutionary process, the opportunity to innovate has opened the education publishing industry wide open. Over the last 20 years, many teachers and professors have turned away from traditional textbooks, and instead have begun creating custom content in the form of course readers. Already, a variety of companies like Boundless and Flatworld Knowledge aim to provide affordable and new-age replacements to current course materials, helping educators handpick the right material for the right course. You can create content with video and audio, link it to OER (Open Education Resources, more on those soon), and have it delivered to any person, on any device, anywhere in the world! If I sound excited, it’s because I am! We’re not talking about MOOCs here, because not everyone wants to take an online course. We are talking about the evolution of course materials for your classroom.

Guy Kawasaki, Chief Evangelist at Apple, co-founder of Garage Ventures, and award-winning author, predicted the end of traditional publishers — and the time has come for education publishers as well. The latest tools allow for social interaction and collaboration, while providing a platform for research, note taking and essay writing. Naturally, custom course content will continue to proliferate, and as more educators learn to leverage technology, any product that facilitates this type of educational value will likely grow.

Another likely future alluded to by Guy Kawasaki is — dare I even mention it? Self-publishing. You know exactly what your students need for your course and, if your students need it, then somebody else’s students need it, too! Not only will this encourage collaboration between educators, but there is a glaring market opportunity as well. Self-publishing reduces publishing fees and gives educators the tools to make relevant and engaging course materials that students desperately need.

Course Content in Real-Time

So in an effort to find a solution in Seth Godin’s rants, and make Guy Kawasaki’s dream come true, I urge you to go out there and explore the possibilities. Once you’ve explored, don’t hesitate to create or re-create content for your students. You can make education content dynamic and reflexive. What we are witnessing is the textbook transforming from static page to real-time education tool.

The tools are available and the market is still in its seed stages. For innovators, this means your opportunity to get picked up by millions of students worldwide is very real. Just keep your prices low, your quality high, and crowds will follow, we like to say. The final challenge is the educator’s onus — teachers and professors need to feel compelled to customize these materials with interactive features, add videos, edit materials when they see fit, and encourage students to try something new. Ultimately, that’s a better model for education content, and from where I’m coming, I support that model.

Let me know what you think on Twitter @SievaKozinsky


Flipped Classroom: Mastery Learning

The most common teaching method today is to break down the macro – the course in its entirety – into smaller, easily digestible portions – lessons – and design a logical flow from one day to the next. To measure the effectiveness of a particular lesson, teachers typically grasp students’ understanding by assigning and grading homework. When a student performs poorly on a homework assignment, teachers reasonably assume that they’re not getting it. The student is perhaps lazy. Or slow. Alas, you can’t stall the whole class on account a few stragglers. And, of course, data doesn’t lie.

This week, Tina Rosenberg wrote a short piece for New York Times’ Opinionator re-introducing the concept of mastery learning, especially as it relates to the flipped classroom. Though not a new idea, as with many alternative learning methods it has been all but blown over by the current public schooling model, one born from America’s once deified drive toward industrialization. In effect, the system tended to treat schools as a machine-like operative – put uneducated youngsters in, out pops a competent class of workers and citizens. In assembly-line fashion, every student learned the same courses, took the same tests, and was measured by the same yardstick of intelligence.

Unlike the traditional model, mastery learning humanizes the student. We’ve come to recognize that people learn at different paces and in different ways – so why would force them through the same static system? Even teachers who recognize this must follow their lesson plan. Stragglers, unfortunately, are left in the dust. I’m not going to reiterate Rosenberg’s points because she makes them so well, but highly recommend her article.

What is relevant for ed-tech is that, in a flipped classroom, the student takes the “lesson” home. Homework, on the other hand, is done in class, with the teacher actively engaging and helping students understand solutions. As with the traditional model, the take-home lesson can contain readings, examples, and breakdowns of key concepts. But unlike assigned homework, where the student must produce, on their own, some demonstration of their knowledge, the take-home lesson does not force output – instead, the focus is on input. At home, students should feel no pressure to produce – they should be given the opportunity to develop genuine curiosity in the subject. Teachers need tools to create a variety of course content and offer lessons that can suit a variety of students.

Another aspect we strongly believe in is a fair educator’s community. No one is better at making the mundane appear fascinating than teachers discussing their trade – I’ve gotten into debates with my high school chemistry teacher about the minutiae of electron valence (not something that, in itself, rarely gets me excited) and felt as if we were exploring the world’s most fascinating structures. As teachers begin to populate the internet with unique and powerful course content, it is vital that their work can be shared with others, and that they have the opportunity to be adequately compensated for it.


Flipped Classroom Week: Extended!

We have exciting news!

Last week was “Flipped Classroom Week” – We received a ton of great feedback and interest from our readers, so we have decided to extend our flipped classroom week to something more like two weeks… maybe even three! During last week’s research and conversations, we quickly came to realize there’s a lot of great information to cover. And you deserve to see it all.

After all, the whole purpose of our blog is to engage critically with the problems we’re tackling – both as a community of educators and technologists, and as a company. The outcome is a reflexive, informed, and entirely awesome product!

We encourage readers to reach out with any questions or comments about our explorations. Happy Teaching.


Flipped Classroom Week: Integrating Technology Organically into the Modern Classroom

Teachers reign in the classroom. They oversee a unique territory, where students, by virtue of their implicit choice to attend, are subject to the teacher’s rule of law. You show up on time, you sit down, you appear presentable. Pupil participation is also within the teacher’s purview, offering incentives and disincentives that guide behavior, which in most cases look something like a good grade or a bad one.

But this territory is fluid, and its participants, fickle. The class extends well beyond the physical confines of the classroom. After all, that’s why you assign homework. But often, it takes more than the casual prod of a looming grade to inspire students to meaningfully engage with the work. Believe me, a bad grade is hardly a sustainable threat for a college student. Coercion, it turns out, is weak – sincere engagement, on the other hand, affords students a true learning experience.

That’s why we believe teaching is an art that brings together three distinct knowledge centers: the subject matter, pedagogical technique, and technology (communicative tools). The TPACK model (Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge), as explained wonderfully by Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, is a clear framework illustrating the supporting role that technology plays in the modern classroom.


The right technology complements what a teacher has already mastered — lesson content and a unique pedagogical style — by serving as a delivery tool, a logistics system, a channel for information and participation. We hope that technology companies take up the responsibility of designing systems that work effortlessly with the teacher’s territory so their content can reign.



Introducing: StudySoup’s Flipped Classroom Week

Although seemingly static, the education industry is constantly adopting new classroom models.

In the 19th century, America’s first classrooms operated with a degree of prudence that reflected the country’s fledgling government and limited resources – locally-sourced wood for the schoolhouse, teachers hired from the clergy, and bookshelves comprised of whatever was available. As the population largely lived in rural areas, schools were a direct responsibility of their local community. By the 21st century, however, the scope of American public schools had dramatically expanded: centralized government regulation, teachers competing for jobs, and textbooks from around the world.

Today, education is experiencing yet another transformation: the digital age.

Before starting StudySoup, I was intimately aware of the the impact that technology was having on the classroom, with the increasing popularity of Powerpoint presentations, course information stored online, and of course, students using computers in class. But despite these incremental changes, no single advent had fully remodeled the modern classroom to adequately fit this generation of students. Then I discovered the Flipped Classroom model. (See infographic below)

StudySoup strives to keep you ahead of the curve with tools to build a virtual classroom to perfectly complement your course and provide awesome functionality for your students. We’re excited to share with you that teachers around the US are now using StudySoup to carry out the Flipped Classroom for their students.

Where does StudySoup come in? Teachers and professors need a delivery vehicle for lectures, readings, and homework. We provide a complete delivery platform for your materials. In addition, we’re helping facilitate the next expansion of education: teachers can sell their courses through the Education Marketplace and earn additional compensation for their work. We believe in simple site functionality so you’re not wasting time fiddling with technology – you’re using it to your advantage. It takes just 2 minutes to upload your videos, text, and presentations.

With a virtual classroom that works on your terms, you have more classroom time to discuss concepts, answer questions, and engage students in a much more personal and attentive manner.

Take a look at this awesome infographic, courtesy of our friends at Knewton Learning.
Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Note: This is the 1st entry in StudySoup’s Flipped Classroom Week. Stay tuned for next week’s updates!