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Some time ago, I needed to teach git in the class. So I took a 6 hours course in one of the online courses websites (I think it was udemy or coursera). The course was so good, that I was wondering why I have to teach this myself at all? Why not tell the students to view the course at home and ask me if they have any questions? The online course has many advantages that I cannot hope to have in class:

  • Each student can learn in his/her own pace;
  • Every several minutes, there is a pause and a short question so that the students can check their understanding before proceeding;
  • Every hour or two, there is an intermediate summary with a quick quiz that is graded automatically;
  • The lectures are very polished, clear, with many examples. And, they have more time than me (I had only 3 hours) so they can elaborate more, and the students can choose whether to go deeper.

Of course, I cannot just say that I do not come to teach, because it is against the rules of the department. But, from the students' perspective, it seems much better to learn from home.

So my questions are:

  • Should I recommend to my students "learn everything at home before the class, and come to class only if there is something you want to ask"?
  • Is there another way to combine online courses with frontal teaching in a fruitful way?
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    $\begingroup$ What you describe is (or close to) flipped learning/class-room. Why do we not do it. I think it comes down to economics: We are paid to teach, so we teach (badly). We are afraid that if we make our-selfs not need, then we will not be needed. This is however not true, you will still be needed. Have a read about flipped class room. $\endgroup$ – ctrl-alt-delor Feb 16 at 16:55
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What you have described is about half of what is known as a flipped classroom. This concept has been explored in other questions here and at the Academia forum. The idea is that instead of lecturing, face to face time is filled with activities that can only be done face to face and the students are given "assignments" to read or explore video and other online information outside of class.

What would normally be practice and experience on the student's own time (standard classroom) is now done during the class periods where you get a chance to observe them. You also get a chance to permit group work and sharing, but in an environment in which you can see that any rules are adhered to.

The flipped classroom is very handy in the beginning CS courses where students need to get a lot of practice, but also get stopped when they get to questions that they can't answer and then wait for a chance to have them answered.

But your face time needs to be more (much more) than just you answering questions. That is only serving one or a few students at a time. You need to design activities in which they can all benefit. Group work in a flipped classroom is also useful as many of the questions that arise in the course of an activity can be answered by the students themselves and their team mate(s) and so don't need to come to you.

Many instructors flip the classroom for the entire course, never lecturing in the traditional sense, but you can also apply it to specific topics. The upside of doing it just a bit is that you get practice with it yourself, but the downside is that the students will be awkward with it initially and won't likely do enough outside class periods.

On an orthogonal track, online courses are a mixed-value resource. For certain kinds of learners (like yourself) they can be valuable. For others, they don't work at all. The typical drop-out figures for online courses are appalling. I don't think that is primarily due to the quality of the material but rather to a mismatch with learning styles of the students. I don't have research on that, however, but would love to see it. One problem with video is that a student can't ask a question in the middle of it. If they miss a point, they can replay, but can't really get a clarification. I also question whether students are able, in such courses, to get appropriate practice and (more important) feedback on their practice.

But combining an online "course" with good practice-and-feedback can be a plus, provided that you design it properly, taking account of the different needs of different students.


Here us another question on Flipped Classroom. A simple search for "flipped" at Academia will turn up a wealth of information.

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I often refer students to tutorials and videos as a supplement to my classes. They find this helpful because a video can be paused while they experiment with the concepts on their computers. Sometimes I will assign a tutorial and then have them do an activity in class where they apply the ideas.

There is lots of great stuff out there. Don't ignore it.

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