MOOCs, SNOCs, DOCCs, and flipped classrooms: Thoughts from the first Yale Online Education Open Forum of 2014

On Monday last week, my colleague Dave Malinowski and I were able to sit in on Yale’s first Online Education Open Forum of the year. The event was live-tweeted by @Yale_Online (scroll down to Jan. 27 tweets), and videos of the presentations, such as those by Mathematics Lecturer Jim Rolf, and Jessica Coviello and Ekaterina Ginzburg of the School of Nursing, have just been uploaded to the Yale YouTube channel. Here we thought we wouldn’t try to give a complete summary of the event, but instead just weigh in with a few of our unpolished reflections on themes and topics that we’ve found compelling in the ongoing discussions here on online learning.

We’ve structured this post in the form of two mini-posts, with mine, focusing on an exciting initiative in ‘flipping’ the curriculum here at Yale, appearing first:

While most of the presentations were thought-provoking, invigorating, and full of innovative ideas related to online education, I was particularly impressed by Michael Schwartz‘s presentation about the initiative that is being undertaken by the Yale School of Medicine. The Yale School of Medicine is currently building a new curriculum scheduled to be launched in 2015. The new curriculum is based on the flipped classroom model, which presupposes the delivery of new material to students via short video lectures outside of class, while spending the class time for tackling the most difficult aspects of the new material and working on tasks and projects to synthesize and expand the newly acquired knowledge. The effective implementation of this model includes not only the provision of technical support to the faculty (i.e., training them on how to record and edit video lectures), but also pedagogical support, which, in my opinion, is even more paramount. The support provided by the Yale School of Medicine to their faculty who are involved in the development of the new curriculum is multifaceted and seems to target both technological and pedagogical aspects. 
The technological support is definitely important, especially for the faculty who are not tech-savvy, to help them transition to teaching in an online environment. However, the ultimate success of the new technology-enhanced class or curriculum depends on how aptly and effectively the technology and pedagogy are integrated into the class, and whether their synergy enables the achievement of learning objectives. Of particular interest in this synergy is the role of assessment, which may, or may not, need to be re-conceptualized. In the flipped classroom model, assessment, if used effectively, can help the instructor get a better understanding of students’ learning needs. For example, quizzes embedded in video lectures can allow the instructor to monitor his/her students’ progress and see which aspects of the new material they struggle with. Having identified such problematic areas, the instructor can then revisit them in class. This allows for the most effective use of the class time and ensures that students’ learning needs are addressed. As such, assessment becomes not only a means of evaluating students’ learning, but also a means of evaluating the instructor’s teaching and helping him/her adjust the course flow and activities to meet students’ needs. 

Dave, meanwhile, focused on two projects presented at the Open Forum that bring together Yale classrooms and students with those of multiple other institutions, across the U.S., in one case, and around the world, in another:
There are a lot of things to write about here—I really enjoyed the more intimate setting and ability to hear about these various projects in some detail. Overall, though, one of my strongest impressions had to do with the varying scales of online ed initiatives. And I mean by this not only the size of the classrooms/learning communities that attach to any one project (in terms of number of participants, etc.), but also the perceived dominance of the MOOC on the American educational scene, and the need to ‘build up’ the case for alternative views that prioritize alternate pedagogies. (Cathy Davidson’s words in her video lectures for the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education anti/meta-MOOC she’s spearheading now that “the relationship between MOOCs and open learning is very, very antagonistic” come to mind). Before our very eyes, I felt as I sat with colleagues in WLH 208, we were witnessing the rush to open a territory of alternative categories, alternative acronyms, to a place where the very terms of debate about online education can be reframed.
Two joint presentations that stood out for me in this light were David Bach (School of Management) and Brad Gentry (School of Forestry & Environmental Studies)’s on the SOM Global Network for Advanced Management, and Laura Wexler (Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) and Trip Kirkpatrick (Yale Instructional Technology Group)’s on their experimental feminist cyber-learning course, WGSS 380 (Gender and Sexuality in Media and Popular Culture) and the networked collaboratory it was part of. Bach and Gentry’s “SNOC vs. MOOC” slide first got me thinking about the battle over acronyms in online education; among their comparisons of “Small Network Online Courses” with courses of the Massive Open Online variety, they stated that the former are formed of “pre-qualified groups of high-caliber students from select programs within the  network,” while the latter bring together ”huge volumes of unscreened students with varying degrees of interest and capabilities.” Similarly, while in SNOCs “content and format leverages network capabilities and student expertise”, they stated, in MOOCs “content is based on the superstar faculty member’s expertise and format maximizes delivery effectiveness”. The directed-ness and seemingly controlled (still small-scale) nature of this model stood in some contrast to Wexler and Kirkpatrick’s “DOCC” – Distributed Open Collaborative Course, the FemTechNet  networked learning experiment that served as a home for their WGSS 380 course at Yale. The DOCC, however, still defines (and diagrams) itself in opposition to the MOOC: the former “recognizes and is built on the understanding that expertise is distributed throughout a network, among participants in diverse institutional contexts,” while the latter is “organized around the delivery of information from an ‘expert’ faculty (or a pair of instructors) to the uninformed ‘masses.’” Both models, SNOC and DOCC, pointed to great successes in their first iterations, in terms of numbers of participants, dialogues and collaborative projects fostered, and other indices. The future of these initiatives—and the life of their acronyms, and those sure to follow later in 2014—will be fascinating to follow. 

If you are interested in learning more about other exciting online initiatives at Yale, we suggest that you check future Online Education Open Forums scheduled to take place later in Spring 2014.

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