Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Stanford University Computer Science Zoom Class a Quantum Leap Backwards

Stanford University's large scale Zoom class
I had to check twice to see Stanford University's large scale Zoom class was not a spoof. With this setup the lecturer stands at a lectern in an otherwise empty room. In front of them is a wall of video screens, showing the students, each in their Zoom window. It is not the first time that this idea of replicating the large lecture has been attempted, but is perhaps the worst one. Previous examples were using hybrid mode. This had a small number of students in the classroom, with video screens at the back to make it appear they were in the room.

CSU College of Business collaborative classroom.
Photo by CSU Photography
In 2019, Colorado State University’s College of Business installed 27 high-video screens on the back wall of a classroom. The room also had seating for 37 students, in a semicircle, to give an intimate environment. This is a much better design than that at Stanford. 

There have been video studios for teaching, for at least the last 50 years, with the advent of the Open University. The best of these look like TV studios. That format may be distracting for academics unused to it. However, for those of us who have put in the hours and done the training in how to produce educational video, this is just part of the job.

The Internet provides new and different ways to provide education. Some of these can be used to reproduce features from older education format, such as the lecture. However, we should try to incorporate the good features, not bad ones. 

Education should be designed to cater to the needs of the students, not to make up for inadequacies of the teaching staff. Academics who see themselves as orators to crowds need to be given help to retrain and also overcome the sense of loss of part of their identity. Taking a poor educational format (the large lecture) and making it even poorer online is not an acceptable alternative to good learning design delivered by trained qualified educators.

ps: I suggest this is a quantum leap backwards in education. But in the technical sense of the term quantum: the smallest possible change. ;-)

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