Friday, January 15, 2010

Chiming in on the Lecture Capture issue

I've been reading John Cassidy's How Markets Fail, a critique of modern academic economics, particularly the "Chicago School," in light of the Financial Crisis and the ensuing "Great Recession." I'm not quite halfway through it. I really like what I've read so far. It inspired this interactive spreadsheet to illustrate the basic concepts underlying his discussion of "General Equilibrium" and the video below. Cassidy writes an intellectual history of economics, describing many of the key players and their contributions, explaining why their ideas are important. In a certain sense it is a setup for a very long shaggy dog story. Too many economists fell in love with math and the models they made with the math. They lost their sense of reality in the process and that has come back to burn them.

Nevertheless, one can't completely ignore the old models and go to something superior. There is learning working through the underlying models and students need to understand their strengths before seeing a critique. So I started to envision that Cassidy's book might be used in lieu of a textbook in an intermediate micro course, to motivate students to think through these models.

Many people are now discussing lecture capture in the live classroom and lecture videos made at the instructor's desktop as an alternative. Recently I read this very interesting post by Gardner Campbell on the subject, where I became aware of the Khan Academy. (There is an awesome number of videos at that site.) There is testimony from some of the audience about why those videos are appealing. Lecture Capture is also an agenda item for the next meeting of the CIC Learning Technology Group. So let me make two points about this, one a very obvious one, the other perhaps also obvious though maybe it requires some penetration of the issues to reckon with it. I want to put those both together.

The first point is that captures, once created, have an essential public good aspect to them, at least when they are not password protected. Following Cassidy, I will assert that markets don't provide public goods very well. But communities can effectively provide public good. So the question is: why haven't we moved to a community approach for capture? And how might we go about doing that. The other point is that particularly for analytic content, but also for much other content that students find difficult at first, they don't have the wherewithal to familiarize themselves with the subject matter. The not so hypothetical quote of the student talking to the instructor to exemplify the problem is, "I understand it very well when you explain it. But I can't do it on my own." Students need help with the familiarizing process and coming up with activities for internalizing the content. This is why simulations are so important. They are much more important than lecture.

Simulations are time consuming to make and most faculty haven't ventured down the road. But if they did, they might lecture --- very briefly ---- about the simulation itself and let the students discover the rest on their own by playing with the simulation. That's the approach taken with the video below. I'd like to see us produce videos of that sort (with the captions too) as a collective effort. Can we get there from here?

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