Flipped Classroom, 1972-style (and early visions of connected home computing)

Today I did two articles for the HHOL project (reminder: you should join the project!). The first article I wrote was on Ancient Roman Assessment. The second was on the late 60s/early 70s system called TICCIT, which used a combination of videotapes, servers, computers, and color terminals to deliver instruction into homes and dormitories over cable-TV infrastructure.

As I was looking through a 1972 write-up on the project, I was struck by how much more literate these technologists were in instructional design than the current crop of disrupters. Sure, it’s a mash-up of Bloom’s Mastery Learning and Skinner’s Programmed Instruction, but that’s pretty enlightened for 1972. And the development and review of project materials were overseen by an instructional psychologist (pg. 19), which happens today approximately never.

Technically, too, these people stand head and shoulders above today’s crowd. A main argument of the report is that the coaxial infrastructure of cable-TV holds a remarkable potential when it is used to connect home computers to servers delivering interactive content (pg. 45). It then goes on to detail some of the services that could be delivered through the coaxial cable infrastructure, including email, meter-reading, online shopping, electronic newspaper delivery, travel route-planning, “cashless society” transactions, and computer dating (pg. 49-55). And they top it off by predicting online education will make the biggest dent in the adult education market, with traditional students see a smaller amount of imapct. Again, not bad for 1972.

But the gem, for me, was this simple, unassuming paragraph:

Flipped Classroom, 1972

Of course, it’s a restatement of the dream since Pressey — remove the burden of the repeatable so teachers can focus on the sort of personalized tutoring they do best. But the difference here is that these people know that. No one is wandering around claiming to have invented “flipped classroom”. It’s been invented. The question, as always, is how to make it work.

11 thoughts on “Flipped Classroom, 1972-style (and early visions of connected home computing)

  1. People were talking about TICCIT when I started at Maricopa, VAX based if I recall. A good friend (Betty was on my hiring committee) did work with it in Math. There was an ESL project that started on TICCIT (I think) then went partly done through Authorware, Hyoercard, till I got it and published it with Director as a cd-rom.

    There was a lot of pioneering edtech efforts at Maricopa long before I got there.

  2. It is interesting to see these statements from 1972. They are prescient, as you suggest, and I agree we as a society do seem to have lost the plot on the value and complexity of educational design. “Democratizing access to information” is not at all the same as providing effective learning experiences via technology. Big Data is not the same as actionable insight supporting more effective learning.

    At my company, we have built a platform that is intended to do pretty much exactly what is described in your excerpt from 1972. (The first module covers elementary number concepts.) And it seems to deliver on that vision.

    One of our biggest challenges is that most people don’t see the value of any of those features-enabling the teacher to become a coach, etc. In fact, most people seem to think anything labelled “math” is interchangeable with anything else carrying the same label. There is little appreciation for the leverage that good instructional design can provide, or that a capable teacher can add on top of that.

    We have found, for example, at least an order of magnitude difference in learning rates between the top and bottom students in a typical classroom, using a criterion based (mastery learning) system. We see another order of magnitude in variation between classrooms where they “leave it to the machine” to do the teaching vs. those with a teacher acting as coach, leveraging their teaching time by using the technology.

    But still, as you describe, people think online videos with little interaction and no differentiation and no teacher support recorded by people with no educational experience off the top of their heads should be just as good as anything else. And if they are free, how can anything possibly compete? Free makes the denominator of the ROI equation to zero, which takes the ROI to infinity.

    I am glad to discover this post and a like-minded person behind it.

    It is not encouraging, however, to find that we are moving backwards relative to 1972.

    Thanks for sharing this. Good good for thought.

    • I checked out the blurb on you upcoming book — I want it to be out now! I don’t know if you know Audrey Watters, but she is also working on a book about Teaching Machines.

      For me, the depressing thing is that this need to erase the past so we can appear innovative causes us to experiment on students much more than we should have to. I’m all for rolling out new approaches, but it seems senseless to subject students to experiments we have already run without at least trying to cull SOME lessons from the past.

      And as you mention, the other depressing thing is the lack of intentionality or self-awareness of the people running today’s experiments. They all know better until they don’t, and then the failure is supposed to be some grand show of how “agile” they are. Ugh.

  3. Oh, it’s much worse than moving backwards relative to 1972 and TICCIT. Today’s efforts are moving backwards relative to the PLATO system as well.

    The TICCIT system was an example of a project where educational psychologists and instructional theorists dictated, and remained in control of, the design of a computer-based education system. It’s rare today. The problem with TICCIT was its very restrictive design. If you wanted to teach in a way other than the TICCIT creators’ envisioned, it was nigh impossible. Their learning theory was so embedded into the system that the software and even the hardware (namely the keyboard) were built so you were forced to stick within its rigid confines.

    It’s mostly entrepreneurs and technologists approaching it from a classic biz-tech-VC perspective: ooh, there’s inefficiency, let’s throw tech at it and make tons of money doing it, and there’s no need to bog ourselves down by looking into the past to see if there’s any wisdom from earlier projects. Big mistake. Made over and over again, year after year: it’s the ed-tech way.

    p.s. I’m writing a book about the history of the PLATO system and it will have detailed coverage on the history of TICCIT as well.

    • Thanks for the comment. I agree — for tight design we’ve lost the plot entirely. There are some benefits to tight design, but we acheive none of them with Silicon Valley hand-waving.

      And the lessons we learned about the downsides of tight design from those projects? It’s as though they never happened.

      There are a couple things we seem to learn again and again in these things. One is that there is a tension between the concept of self-paced instruction and the useful affordances of a cohort of learners. So the idea is that self-paced will maximize learner efficiency. And it does, kind of. But it also makes it really hard to run a traditional class cohort, etc. And so you end up maximizing efficiency but dialing down all the cohort benefits if you’re not careful.

      The other thing is this flexibility problem. There’s this dream of contextless e-learning, as modular and detached from delivery as a book you pick up at the library. But the point of live instruction is the ability to skillfully blend in the local context (student interest, ability, local events, etc) into the instruction in such a way that it becomes meaningful. Rigid systems undermine that. Wiley gets at this in his Reusuability Paradox, but in some ways it’s even bigger.

      One of the reasons I identify with the open education community is I feel they are one of the only communities of technologists currently addressing the future of these issues in a way that utilizes the lessons of the past. But that’s for another day….

    • Ahhh PLATO- I recall it still being used at GateWay Community College (Phoenix AZ) into the 1990s. As an undergrad at University of Delaware (mid 1980s) I had a part time job reviewing student assessments in PLATO. Knowing nothing of teaching or instructional design I was still shocked by how stultifying all that button pushing was.

  4. In many ways, we have stepped backward rather than moved forward when it comes to online education. I am old enough to remember when teachers appeared on public television to offer extra help after school. Students could call in with questions and the teacher would answer them on the air, using a blackboard and verbal examples. Interactive learning makes a big difference. Students know the difference between working with a skilled teacher and listening to a monologue from a novice.

    • That teachers call-in thing is a neat memory — I’m not quite that old, but I have seen it before. I wonder if anyone has captured those old call-in shows somewhere on YouTube?

      Maybe not, they pre-date home taping, and stations probably would not have saved them. But how interesting would it be to put them next to a Khan Academy video?

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