One classroom for one kind of future

Greetings, readers.  I’ve been quiet of late, due to a frenzy of traveling: Providence, Washington, Helsinki, Pennsylvania.  Now I’m back in the bloghouse.

And what brings me out of jet lag and a towering pile of emails, back to the Add New Post box?  This article about Harvard Business School’s “classroom of the future.”  It’s a fascinating piece, with useful indications of where education, technology, and coverage thereof are headed.

I admire the initiative of rethinking distance learning, and of engaging seriously with video.  But there are so many strange and dismal things in this account!

To begin with, HBX Live seems to recapitulate the sage-on-the-stage pedagogy we know from lectures and xMOOCs.  I say “seems” because there’s no real discussion of student interaction in the article (which is revealing, eh?), but this photo really suggests isolated students, communicating only with the faculty member:

Obviously good lecturing can work. But this seems to collapse learning entirely into the prof-centric mode.  Can students even see each other?

The production setup seems to echo this pedagogy as well:

Crew members toggle between dozens of cameras trained at the professor, lingering only a few seconds on each angle. One worker roams around the professor with a hand-held camera, aiming to give students a sense of movement.

Speaking of production, the creators of HBX Live designed it based on… tv sports shows and reality television?

Although the idea isn’t entirely new, Harvard put a twist on it by approaching the project like a live television production.

To learn the trade, school officials visited NBC Sports studios in Connecticut and studied reality TV shows.

The school hired a production crew that sits in a control room above the studio, broadcasting the class to students with the cinematic polish of a cable news show.

To begin with, and setting aside questions of technical competence (which I assume Harvard can simply purchase at a high level), are these really the best sources for inspiration?  Are there formal aspects to sports and reality tv that go beyond the subject matter’s distance from tertiary education?  I see little of both, so I’m ready to be persuaded, but am skeptical.

Moreover, the similarly skeptical reader may at this point wonder about cost.  After all, setting up nearly 100 separate video feeds, a videography crew, a production suite, and, presumably, a post-production team doesn’t come cheap.  Let HBX put your mind at rest: “Harvard hasn’t disclosed how much it spent on the classroom and its crew.”

As Barbara Pittman notes on Twitter, ” I guess it won’t be in one of those “free” community colleges anytime soon, then.”

Barbara Pittman tweets: " I guess it won’t be in one of those “free” community colleges anytime soon, then."

I bet you could set up a Shindig instance for much, much less.

Is HBX Live creating a prototype in a way that other, less enormously wealthy campuses can copy or at least be inspired by?  I can’t find any signs of an open source software commitment (if they are making code), or sharing designs, or of making class content open.

Unless there are countervailing accounts out there, HBX Live seems to be a classroom for a very specific future.  That’s a time when pedagogy is asocial and prof-centric, where geographic distance becomes interpersonal separation.  It’s a future where the wealthiest academic institutions can erect such structures for themselves, increasing another kind of separation: between socio-economic classes.

The project’s fawning coverage in this Associated Press article suggests another element of that future.  We can count on uncritical journalism to celebrate it.

Where are other signs of this HBX Live future?  And where are its opponents?



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One Response to One classroom for one kind of future

  1. Pingback: Trends to watch in 2015: education and technology | Bryan Alexander

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