My new favorite edublogger (not counting my dear friends here on e-Literate, to whom I am partial) is Mike Caufield over at Hapgood. I don’t know how I missed him up until now, but I was very lucky to meet him at a recent Lumen Learning event. I learn something valuable from just about every post of his that I read.
Case in point: His post on the distributed flip based on a talk he gave at InstructureCon. (Sadly, I have missed most of the LMS conferences this year due to other business travel.) This is a nuanced and interesting piece that is worth reading in its entirety.
That said, there is one idea I’d like to highlight that is related to something that Phil and I have written about quite a bit. It all starts with the notion of the “cognitive cutoff” as the motivation for the flipped classroom. At it’s heart, it’s a simple idea. If you want your students to learn a sophisticated concept, they have to learn the simpler concepts that form the foundation first. One way to think about flipping is that the students are getting the foundation at home so that you can guide them through the sophisticated stuff in class. The line between the “at-home” stuff and the “in class” stuff is the cognitive cutoff. It’s the line between the stuff you think they can handle on their own and the stuff you think they’re really going to need your help with.
But here’s where Mike takes the idea someplace fascinating:
What I find interesting about the cognitive cutoff from an educational materials perspective is this. If your cognitive cutoff is low – somewhere just over remembering – your educational materials issue is pretty simple, and you might be able to deal with it by recording some mini-lectures and combining them with textbook readings. In this sort of scenario it’s completely possible that a faculty member could do this by themselves, though admittedly at an increased workload.
But what if you want to push that cognitive cutoff to where [Robert] Talbert is pushing it? And what if you want to develop a rich set of activities and materials that support the students in reaching that cutoff before class?
I’d propose that to do that in a really effective way requires more work than any one single faculty member can do, and that when you get into designing online components that test application, understanding, and analysis that you may also be pulling from skills that are not traditionally those of faculty (e.g. instructional design). You have to get beyond the cottage industry model of course design.
If the residential college, or its digital…er…analog of traditional faculty-led distance learning, is going to be able to continue to justify its existence in the face of alternative methods that will increasingly provide lower cost structures, it has to have a set of pedagogical approaches that can deliver very high learning impact on a reliable basis. Mike’s suggestion of keeping the cognitive cutoff high is one reasonable strategy for achieving that impact. But taking that strategy will entail faculty accepting a new relationship to their course designs. It means they have to rely increasingly on research done by cross-functional teams across many class cohorts for the course and curricular materials designs, and invest their personal sense of self-worth instead on what they accomplish in the classroom as an advanced coach. Unfortunately, some faculty seem to equate this sort of change with them becoming “glorified TAs”—an idea frequently expressed with an air of disdain.