How to upscale a teacher’s job, and at the same time increase quality

Standing in class takes time. But it takes a lot more time to develop teaching. That is also why we gain by thinking more about this development process than what shall happen in the classroom itself. Here’s how it can be done. For a good reason: others have already started to work in this way.

In the 1980s I took an extra course in programming, specifically in the programming language LISP. I had a voluntary course left for my Master’s degree so I thought: why not try this one? But that course turned out to be completely different than expected.

The first lesson began with a young doctoral student rolling in a television set in the lecture hall. He then tucked in a VHS cassette and pressed play. That was the introductory lecture.

The question is not if TV is good or bad for us. The real question is: How to sort out the good TV-programs from the bad ones?

Sure; the doctoral student also actually said hello briefly to us students at the beginning, introduced himself a little and even handed out a course syllabus on paper – the textbook we had to buy in the local bookstore. But 95% of the time was spent on watching a video.

It was a great video by the way.

The second lesson was the same. With the difference that I have no memory of the doctoral student handing out any papers this time. And this time, he even spoke less to us than he had at done the first opportunity.

Third lesson, same thing.

That’s not exactly how the whole course went. The doctoral student himself held a number of labs, and he did that really well. Then we could all ask him questions and really get in-depth, and pleasant, answers to all the thoughts we had. That it was then laboratory work that was already described in the course book did not bother any of us students, quite the contrary. It was really good, and instructive, laboratory work – with clear instructions that we could read far in advance. And they really weren’t easy at all. There were, of course, different programming tasks.

The whole course was actually given by a number of experienced programming teachers at MIT – today somebody would probably call it that the course was almost outsourced, if they wanted to try to be a little mean. The course consisted of recorded lectures, on VHS cassette, made in a classroom at MIT, that reminded me of the room I was sitting in, students were present during the recordings, a textbook, and the labs. Everything was developed by the same teachers who had made the recordings.

­The interesting thing about this example is not that it is closer to 40 years old – this was really long before we got the internet. The interesting thing is that the course was good, really good.

At the end of the year, the course was even voted “teacher of the year” by the students themselves. The doctoral student in question received an award. In my eyes, he deserved that award. That was a really good teacher.

Today it looks a little different. It doesn’t take a TV and VHS-cassettes to follow a lecture any other teacher has done. And both the film and sound quality are guaranteed to be better than they were then. We have YouTube and other things.

There is absolutely nothing to say that a good teacher cannot use material developed by someone else, and yet be named “teacher of the year”.

It’s really just the opposite.

There are two ways of looking at a phenomenon like this if you are an individual teacher, and now I do not think of questioning arguments such as “but what would my job look like if I did this myself?” or “isn´t working like this almost like cheating?”.

Instead, I think that you can see it either as a way to develop your own profession. It is no more different than the fact that knowledge developed elsewhere, such as textbooks written by someone else, is already being used, or that one acknowledges that the knowledge one has once come from somewhere. Or, so you can see it as an opportunity to scale yourself up, something that best seller authors, for example, have already realized. It´s about using material, and sharing material.

Users have always needed sharers and sharers have always needed users. It is only some of the recent global internetplatforms that are used for connecting them, like AirBnB for instance, and so many of us talk about today, that seem to believe that the so called “sharing economy” is a totally new thing. It´s not new. It started to evolve thousand years ago. Though today we have the technology, the internet, that can make it into a far bigger phenomenon than previously in history – in the long run actually tremendously big.

Who said; “We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us”?

Isaac Newton.

And this way of working is neither really new at all applied in the field of education. Sites for it already exist. In my profession, management-education, for example, there is the well-established Case-teaching tradition. One writes a case, writes a tutorial, with possible discussion’s answers, teaching in management is often very much about discussion, submits it to Harvard, or its European equivalent Case Clearing-house, gets it assessed by peers, and if it isapproved, it can then be used by others.

It has already been well known for several decades that teachers in the management field use Case developed by others in their own teaching. It can be academically merited to both use, and develop, cases. A good Harvard business case will be a nice tick in an academic CV.

Refueling a car is about gaining access to technology that allows us to get much further and faster than if we just walked.

But since the advent of the internet, we have been able to see this type of approach begin to develop more and more.

And we will see far more of it further on.

Slideshare, the site that was bought by LinkedIn a few years ago, is another such example. There we can refuel Power-Point presentations already used by others, make them our own, get comments about them from others who have already used them, perhaps adjust small things in them, and save ourselves both thought and time.

Another, but fresher, example is JOVE. There it works more like a classic journal publication. You author an article, submit it to JOVE, get it assessed in much the same way as you get a journal article assessed. If you are then accepted into their writing, you will also receive technical help in making a video presentation of it, for educational purposes. After that, it is made possible for others, for a small fee, to use that video.

In the coming years, it is very likely that we will both will see this way of working develop much longer than before, and the advent of more “sharing sites” than those that exist now.

Nassim Taleb once wrote in the introduction to his famous book The Black Swan that he had been advised by his father when he was young; “Get a scalable job”. He must have had a really wise father.

And by the way: this approach to teaching is also a great example showing that due to digital powers teachers today are actually able to deliver far more for far less.

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