Designing Open Materials Intentionally for the Blended Classroom

One of the interesting things that is going on right now is that MOOC providers, unable to find a path to sustainability in the direct-to-consumer market, have now positioned themselves as providers of materials for campus-based flipped classes, part of a larger trend Amy Collier and I have been referring to as the “distributed flip”.

I’m glad to see some of the focus is now at on helping the 70% of American high school graduates who enroll in college to have a more engaging and educational experience, one that might lead to graduation rather than just debt. But why would materials that were developed for massive, fully-online classes of self-learning adults be suited for use in the blended classroom?

I mean, they *might* be. By accident. But is that what we want? It reminds me of those scenes in Better Off Ted where the failure to create a successful food product leads to the sale to the military of some type of weaponized pudding.

What might materials developed explicitly for the blended or flipped classroom look like? Oddly, in another part of MIT, they’ve got some experience in this. The BLOSSOMS project at MIT was started explicitly to look at how video might be used effectively in the blended classroom. Here’s a short clip from BLOSSOMS. If you play it to the end (it’s a 90 second clip), you’ll see that the presentation is designed with the expectation that some work will be done in class.

Did you play it? I don’t think it’s particularly revolutionary — on the contrary, I see it borrowing a lot of lessons from past uses of video for education. But there’s nothing wrong with that, IMHO.

You can argue that you don’t need video to do this. I think that’s correct. Video is one way, but there are others. If you flip through Dan Meyer’s blog on math education, for example, you don’t necessarily find traditional “blended education materials”. But you *will* find a community of people designing high-impact activities for the classroom that use simple prompts. I love this activity about “stacking cups” for example:


As Dan points out, this builds off a simple image, and escalates. Moreover, it’s an image that you can create yourself. It’s an image that puts you in the frame.

I’ve talked about this before, but the Open Education community and Silicon Valley tend to think we need more educational resources. And to a certain extent, we do. But if we are going to support blended learning what we probably need most are good teaching resources. Stuff that helps you be awesome in the classroom. Stuff that builds in insights of hundreds of people running these activities, and turns it into iteratively improved activities that set your classroom on fire.

Stuff that leaves room for you to be in the frame.

At InstructureCon I had a great conversation with Jared Stein on something I had seen in a couple of distributed flips using video lectures of other teachers (MOOCs and otherwise). Faculty lost credibility with the students. In the case at Keene State, one faculty member got very harsh evaluations from the students who felt the faculty member should be doing their own lecturing.

I initially saw that as typical student resistance to active learning. And a lot of it probably is. But the more I’ve talked about it with people, the more I come to the conclusion that it’s not simply that.

You see, xMOOCs and other OER are often designed to remove face-to-face teachers from the equation, not to make them more awesome. The were designed to assert that the authority comes from this self-contained experience. When xMOOCs are used for blended learning, the classroom is not a partner in that effort — it’s more a housekeeper, there for the tidying up after the real work is done.

You can design against that, and you will. But why should you have to?

If you’re considering fueling a blended learning revolution on your campus using MOOCs, it is worth thinking about this. One of the best ways to increase student learning is to help your teachers excel at what they do. Are the materials in a traditional MOOC really going to do that?

Or are they going to write your teachers out of the frame?

10 thoughts on “Designing Open Materials Intentionally for the Blended Classroom

  1. “One of the best ways to increase student learning is to help your teachers excel at what they do.”

    Maybe this is a cousin to the Kathy Sierra usability maxim, “Give users a way to kick ass.”

    You’re picking on MOOC materials here but I’m not sure your question is even on their radar. (ie. They don’t seem to have given a lot of thought to the collision of their lecture videos with brick-and-mortar professors.) I’d rather you directed the question at pretty much every other OER advocate. I think it’s great that Utah has developed a floor-to-ceiling math curriculum and that CK-12 puts out free PDFs. But we should question whether any of those materials will make teachers excellent.

  2. Dan, I couldn’t agree more — I’ve been pushing this same issue in the OER community for almost four years now. As a matter of fact, the first I heard of your blog was when I posted “Why I Am Focusing on Open TEACHING Resources” ( ) back in 2010 — I’d written this post kind of in awe of the reuse that my wife was doing around internet-based open lesson plans in K-8, and a commenter emailed me and said basically, you’re almost right, but lesson plans aren’t quite what you want, take a look at this, and linked me to your work.

    As someone embedded in the OER community for way too long, I can say most of the current fight for useful teaching materials in OER tends to revolve around two things. First, designing for classroom reuse. This honestly is a ridiculous situation, but many people in OER production think OER objects are not designed for any purpose at all other than “to help with learning”, or that resources can be designed for all purposes at once. Just fighting to get people to realize that you have to choose a use case is hard. It is even harder to get people that have spent tens of millions of dollars producing OER but never sat down with teachers who use it to realize you have to talk to the people who use your stuff and solve the problems they have, not the problems your materials happen to solve.

    The second OER flashpoint ends up being the community around materials, and how it interacts with the materials. Many want there to be an elite community of people that produce materials and then a set of consumers. This is Candace Thille’s vision of OLI, for example — that educators should stay out of design, because they don’t have broad enough perspective. And the OLI designs reflect that. Other models exist though — in the distributed flip preso I mention AASCU’s Global Challenges work and the Kaleidescope Project — these initiatives (which have OER people in them) are very focused on the community around the teaching materials being as important as the materials themselves. Ds106 is another great example of a learning community and a teaching community built around digital resources and assignments. These are the places we need to be going. The idea of talking about the distributed flip (and yes, I know “flip” is problematic) is to get off of talking about good-MOOC/bad-MOOC and start looking at the implications of this broader digital resources trend for teaching.

    I don’t know if you know Amy Collier at Stanford, who heads up Teaching and Technology in the online initiatives, but you guys should really talk. We’ve been working together to try to use the MOOC craze to pull the camera back and think about what true networked TEACHING would look like, and I think your work in that area has profoundly influenced us both.

    • “I don’t know if you know Amy Collier at Stanford, who heads up Teaching and Technology in the online initiatives, but you guys should really talk.”

      Weirdly, we’ve never met outside of Twitter, but she seems like one of the good guys in this space.

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