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The Era of Online Learning | Niema Moshiri | TEDxUCSD

so back when I was a sophomore in
undergrad I remember walking into my
first genetics lecture I remember seeing
this massive room filled with 350
students and I squeezed in found a seat
in the room and I saw that there was the
main projector screen which I was you
see that’s where the professor puts
their slides but then on the side of the
room there was another smaller screen
and I was kind of confused what this
other screen would be used for so the
class starts the lights dim and then
what I see is the lecture slides as
expected but then on the smaller screen
is the professor’s face being projected
to our class and I’m thinking that’s
kind of weird why would you project the
professor when they’re right in the
front of the room so I look up and
notice that there’s actually no
professor sitting there at the podium
and it turns out that I was one of the
first people in this linked classroom
setting where they had a massive 700
person class had it split between two
rooms and had the projector had the
professor giving a lecture in one room
and just projecting it to us in the
other room and it did not feel very good
it definitely felt more like I was
reading some dystopian novel of some
sort so clearly I was discontent with
this as the lecture went on I gave a
benefit the doubt the first lecture was
just syllabus day so nothing too crazy
and then one student in our room had a
question to ask and then I was curious
because the professors in the other room
how are they going to ask this question
they can’t even see the student and it
turns out that the mechanism was you had
one TA in our room
who was watching for students with their
hands raised what text a designated TA
in the other room that TA would distract
the professor and tell him there’s a
question in the other room professor
would pause a TA in this room would
sprint with the microphone and
effectively baton the microphone to the
student so you can ask the question TA
runs back to their seat class goes on as
you can imagine this was pretty
distracting it feels like you’re
watching the Olympic Games every single
time someone’s asking a question it was
bizarre so clearly I was not very happy
with this and I was wondering how
exactly did we get here to this
situation that I’m in a room with 700
other people taking the same class it
should be fairly intuitive we have
massively growing numbers of applicants
applying to University and the
universities in order to try to meet
this increasing demand increase the
number of admissions the irony here is
they’re increasing admissions but the
admission rates are actually still
declining because they can’t increase
the admissions at
wait to meet the demand so not only are
we getting this massive growth of
students entering the universities it
should actually theoretically be bigger
than it is putting us at an even worse
position and that leaves you with the
question what can the university do to
try to combat this increase in student
population so as we saw one issue is if
you want to try to keep the same class
sizes you have to hire more faculty
members and I’m sure if you talk to any
faculty member they’re going to tell you
it’s not a very easy process or you have
to hire people you have to put some type
of tenure track in plan and it’s
something that you just can’t do rapidly
enough to meet the the growing student
population so the University resorts to
these massive classes and I was
discontent with how they executed this
but it was actually interesting to me
that they tried to use technology to
help remedy this issue that they were
having so in my exploration I wanted to
see what other professions did we use
technology to try to substitute and how
can we try to learn from those
successful things and apply them to
education so throughout history we’ve
had a good number of jobs that by now
you don’t really even go to a
professional to use you have some app or
some tool that can do it for you and you
know taxi drives are still in business
but I’m thinking in 2020 maybe not even
those will be around anymore if Google
can make self-driving cars and if you
notice the one thing that all of these
technologies have in common is that it
takes this profession and tries to bring
this directly into the hands of the
consumer they try to cut out the
middleman entirely so my thought was how
can we somehow apply this to a classroom
setting and hopefully replace this
professor with some type of technology
that brings education into the hands of
the student themselves so first I’m
going to talk about some critiques
people had with online education and try
to address those
so one critique I’ve seen is that the
traditional lectures provide the optimal
form of learning and it turns out that
this is actually online learning
argument aside just a blatantly wrong
statement in 1984 Benjamin bloom did an
experiment where he tried to test
different types of learning systems and
saw that the traditional classroom
setting was one of the least effective
ways of disseminating knowledge to
students and he said a quote that really
resounded with me he said it makes no
sense to expect all students to take the
same amount of time to achieve the same
objectives and this is intuitive just
basically if we have a bunch of
different students in the same classroom
coming from different backgrounds how
can you expect two different students to
learn the same exact material at the
same pace and what I’ve enjoyed about
online education is that you can address
this by breaking down the content into
individual atomic units and then
different students can take as long or
as little time as they want on each unit
another complaint that I’ve heard is
that the classroom instruction
indifference from MOOCs which are
massive online open courses uniquely
personalizes learning and when someone
says a lecture personalized is learning
all I can think of is are you serious
there’s absolutely nothing personalized
about this at all so what I see
education as is the stereotypical
iceberg picture that all TED Talks have
to have where we have the classroom
lecture on the surface where this is
basically where the students being
exposed to a wide amount of information
but not really diving deep into any of
it and then the core pieces of their
learning go on behind the scenes when
the students actually trying to
understand the material and as they’re
doing problem sets they’ll encounter
what we call learning breakdowns places
where they just cannot get past some
specific topic and it’s through
addressing these learning breakdowns
that they’re doing the bulk of their
learning so ironically in the current
the professor is just involved at this
stage which is really something that you
can learn from the internet or from a
YouTube video of some sort but the place
where that the professor’s expertise
would be extra useful would be in
addressing these learning breakdowns and
we don’t see any involvement from the
professors in this stage
so my proposition is trying to use
online education to maybe flip this type
of situation have the professors be
involved with the learning breakdowns
and not the general content so this
triggered what I call the MOOC
revolution where as I mentioned a MOOC
is a massive open online course so the
motivation of this movement was people
saw it we have these massive class sizes
and they’re saying I personally wouldn’t
prefer this I don’t know about you but
this didn’t work for me this is a little
bit better this is a step in the right
direction and want a few class would be
pretty nice but ideally what I would
want is some type of one-on-one
interaction with the professor
unfortunately as we mentioned this is
unfeasible because we have such
student bodies you can’t have one
professor to each student so these
online courses are trying to use
technology to hopefully simulate this
one-on-one instruction by putting a
professor trained device to help these
students learn and this is where I come
so over the span of the past few years
we’ve had this out surge of all these
different platforms that people can
create courses on and people have
created courses that teach biology
computer science math history pretty
much any topic that you want to learn
unfortunately even though these serve as
a great reference they still in my
opinion do not have any ability to
substitute a real class and to kind of
exemplify this I did an experiment of
sample size one which was just me where
I wanted to see Coursera this one of the
main platforms of online learning had
this new certificate program and I
decided you know what this certificate
seems meaningless to me I want to prove
that it’s actually a meaningless
certificate so I enrolled in what’s
considered one of the best Stanford
hosted online courses through Coursera
which is the machine learning course and
my goal was to finish this course to
full completion without actually
learning anything in the class and my
solution to this was I just fast
forwarded through all the lecture videos
clicked massively on all the
multiple-choice questions and then for
the programming challenges I just used
basic linear algebra knowledge to
rearrange equations and eventually get
the answer and I was able to
successfully complete this 11 week
course in five days getting 100% in the
class without actually learning anything
so I’m not saying that the course is bad
if you want to learn machine learning
you can learn it from this course but
this certificate that you get when you
complete it is clearly not a very
meaningful thing and you can’t have it
replace the traditional diploma because
a diploma needs to infer you know it has
to imply some set of skills that you’ve
mastered so in my opinion we’re not at
that stage yet that we can just replace
online replace university classes with
online learning and to kind of pull
through with this discontent we have a
famous mathematician he said if I had my
wish I would wave a wand and make MOOCs
disappear and I can see where his
discontent comes because I have myself
proved that not all MOOCs are created
equal but I wanted to just draw a
parallel with something that a famous
scholar in 1492 said
where he said the printed book made of
paper is made of paper and like paper
will quickly disappear so to scholars
that had this negative opinion of some
new way of disseminating knowledge
clearly one of them was wrong because I
still have a textbook for every one of
my classes and I’m hoping that through
refinement we can hopefully prove dr.
Vardi wrong as well and show that online
classes can actually be successful and
this is where I come in so my goals are
to transform the impersonal MOOC
experience into an emulated equivalent
of a one-on-one professor student
experience and I want to have students
be able to address learning breakdowns
even more efficiently than they normally
be able to do even in a small classroom
setting and this is where I transition
from MOOCs to what I call ma I TS so m
AIT is a massive adaptive interactive
text so MOOCs in general are video based
whereas I’m proposing an interactive
text that you can use where so with
traditional learning basically you have
this linear sequence of information that
you have to learn maybe the student
understands the first step they keep
understanding and eventually they hit
what we call a learning breakdown and
they just fundamentally do not
understand this stage of the learning
with traditional learning the student
carries that misunderstanding all the
way through and ruins their experience
with anything that depends on this
initial point so with our adaptive
learning basically what we want to do is
when the student encounters a learning
breakdown we want to have some professor
created detour that the student can take
to address this learning breakdown
specifically and then maybe while
they’re doing this detour they encounter
another learning breakdown take another
detour and address that and eventually
hopefully all the dependencies will have
been met so that they can return to the
original content and this time
understand it properly and then if they
can do that then they’ll be successful
in the long run so we’ve implemented
this type of a system in a number of
online courses on the Left I show the
bioinformatics algorithms series that
I’ve been involved with it’s been
created by Pavel pepper and Phillip
Campo and on the right I figured I would
try to make my own equivalent of
something like that
so ITA the advanced data structures at
class at UCSD and I didn’t like the
textbook and none of the students were
reading it so I figured I would just
make my own and over the span of a
summer with the help of one of the
undergraduate students we
co-authored this interactive textbook
that so far has 4.8 stars on the host
it’s on has 2,500 students
internationally and has roughly I think
a thousand or so students within Eustace
T that have used it so this stuff can
actually work if you do it properly so
how do you create a successful M AIT in
my opinion you always have to start with
some captivating attention grabber
that’s going to pull the student in
something to just give a little bit of
shock factor and make them initially
interested then I think you have to
motivate whatever topic you’re teaching
with some type of a real-world problem
something that shows the student why
exactly they’re being forced to learn
what they’re learning then as you go
through the content that you’re teaching
you should break down every single step
of instruction into just a single
message you shouldn’t have more than one
message or one takeaway per individual
unit of topic you need to implement some
form of active learning needed to have
the student actually do problems while
they’re learning the material not after
the matter because if they can do
problems while they’re learning the
material they can instantly figure out
where exactly they’re learning
breakdowns occurred and address them
immediately instead of having all these
fun down the line learning breakdowns
that are a result of this initial one
and then when you finish the topic you
should always go back to that initial
real-world problem that you started to
motivate with and show that you’ve
solved that successfully and hopefully
leave the student with some lasting
message that they can learn from
whatever platform you hosted on it needs
to have some mechanism of having
students being able to discuss with one
another and the kind of beauty of having
these massive classes that you have
students from all around the world with
all different backgrounds able to help
each other me I’m an American student
that did a bio informatics undergrad and
is doing a bioinformatics PhD I might
not be able to think in the way that
someone that did maybe a pure biological
study would take to a given problem so
maybe they’re learning breakdowns that
they encounter are just things that I
can’t even perceive so by having this
massive class you better your chances of
having other students have the exact
same problems in helping each other out
and of course you want to prevent people
for me like me for me able to just kind
of hack their way through your course so
the most important thing as well is that
you should make your course memorable
and just in in
general an enjoyable experience because
students want to learn if you can make
it seem as if it’s fun to learn
so why transition to M AIT specifically
the first step it works right we did a
survey on the Coursera massive courses
where we saw that students significantly
preferred the interactive text to the
traditional lecture videos secondly it’s
a great time investment the investment
pays off so I’m not going to lie it’s a
huge initial investment you have to
increase your fixed cost substantially
but then the variable costs associated
with each subsequent iteration of the
class is basically nothing you’ve
already created all the material and he
effectively just press play so Paul
Lopez owner he’s my PI he said I have
not given a course lecture in over three
years he created this initial content
and he just basically has the students
do the learning online at home and then
during lecture time he spends the entire
time addressing students learning
breakdowns another important feature is
that the open student accessibility in
our courses we have students from all
age groups various academic backgrounds
from all over the world taking the class
and most importantly to me you have
student people that are full-time
workers and parents with young children
who are enabled now able to access this
material so people who otherwise might
have time commitments that make it
difficult for them to pursue some form
of higher education you’ve now opened
the market of education to these
individuals and it’s a win win the
student gets to pursue this education
that they want and the university
actually gets to open up the consumer
base of their product their degrees and
access parts of the market that they
previously were not able to reach and on
a kind of an extension of that it’s
financially sustainable so this is the
John Hopkins University data science
specialization and it initially had
grant money to first be created but
after just two months of execution they
were self-sufficient entirely so it does
pay off
so just some concluding thoughts I have
about this type of notion right now
we’re still at something like this most
UCSD classes that I’ve been involved
with are some massive lecture with one
professor I’m hoping that with good
practice we can eventually push
ourselves to something like this where
every single person all around the world
of all different age groups can have
their own
many pawel to be able to learn from
thank you
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