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Sunday, July 05, 2015

Can an Online Teaching Tool Solve One of Higher Education’s Biggest Headaches?

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Amy X. Wang, Slate intern writes, Carnegie Mellon University has a problem. It’s a good one, this time—unlike when it lost dozens of researchers and scientists to Uber. The university’s new problem is not one of lack but of excess: Too many students are interested in taking a popular computer science course, and there’s not enough physical space in the classroom to accommodate them all.

Starting this fall, Carnegie Mellon will offer "blended learning" for one of its most popular computer science courses. 
Photo: Slate Magazine (blog)

Rather than move the course to a football stadium, the Pittsburgh-based university plans to open the course up to more students by moving the majority of its instructional content from the classroom to the Internet. But it’s not just uploading a series of lectures and calling it an online course. The university will rely on a “blended learning” approach, combining video lectures, optional minilectures, and a handful of face-to-face group meetings between students and instructors for concepts that need to be reinforced in person. The program, which is backed by a $200,000 prize from Google’s Computer Science Capacity Awards program, will debut in the fall, and some of its materials may also be used in high schools next year.

What Carnegie Mellon’s trying to address is an important problem. Universities across America often struggle with disproportionate interest-to-availability ratios in their courses. Courses in computer science especially face an oversubscription problem. Some schools just allow classes to be overcrowded, resulting in large auditorium lectures in which students squeeze shoulder to shoulder along the walls; others try to tackle the issue by capping courses and determining enrollment with an application or a lottery system. In both cases, though, students lose out. Schools could hire more teachers for extra classes, but new instructors have to be paid, even if they are cheap adjunct.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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Source: Slate Magazine (blog)


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