Campus Tech 2014 - Key Take-Aways for Online Education

One of the biggest shockers at Campus Tech 2014, and was a key take-away for online education, was the revelation that video analysis is showing that educators can not hold student’s attention for more than 6 minutes.

This factoid rocked the audience during Anant Agarwal’s keynote. If you want to read a great write-up and summary of his keynote I recommend 2 things: check out our live-tweet and read Ed Tech’s review. On twitter during the keynote this fact reverberated through the back-channeling audience. IMHO, it is not the student’s fault. We, as a society, have conditioned our children to have these short attention spans. This 6 minute devotion perfectly mirrors the television 3-act-plus-commercial-break schedule.

Your average TV show has this format: Opening act (6-7 minutes), commercial break (3-4 minutes), second act (6-7 minutes), commercial break (3-4 minutes), final act (6-7 minutes), commercial break (3-4 minutes).

Yes, if you haven’t figured it out by now I am sorry to tell you that 1/3 of the TV you watch is advertising. Unless you DVR or Netflix your way through TV shows – but that is another blog post for another day. So how can teachers in online classes keep students involved, engaged, or dare I say (dare! dare!) entertained? Why don’t I suggest this new format, let’s call it the ProctorFree Online Learning Engagement Method, the P.O.L.E. Method for short.

Let’s do an example with an entrepreneurship course on the topic of “opportunity recognition”. The structure of this lecture will have to entail something about breaking “eureka myths” (i.e. that ideas will jump out to you like a divine message of how to start a business), understanding the external environment, industry and market analysis, and go/no-go decisions*. That is a pretty reasonable typical 60 to 90 minute lecture. Now let’s try it with the P.O.L.E. Method!

Open up the class with 7 minutes of lecture.  With me so far? Then give the students a short activity to do on their own. Tell them to pause the video and search for an interview of an inventor or entrepreneur wherein they tell their “origin story”.  You can then have the students come back to the video or kick it up a notch and have them post the link and a sentence or two in a group discussion, then return to the video.

Next we will talk about the external environment.  How things change around and outside of you creates turbulence that presents opportunities. For example, as more and more universities are teaching online they need things like Learning Management Systems, support centers, servers, and even online proctoring services. Turbulence >> Opportunity.  Once 7 minutes are up and you have made your point, bring in the activity. Pause the video and have students list external environmental changes and suggest possible solutions. Put another way, have students discuss pain points and remedies. Before they come back to the video each student (or group) can make a wiki on the pain point and remedy they will use as their running hypothetical throughout the class session.

Back to the video, industry and market analysis will teach students how to find out what remedies exist, who else is out there,  competition, what are similar price points, etc… 7 minutes and send them to their wiki to find out this information. At the end of this short exercise students will have the ground work of a business opportunity. Bring them back to the video and wrap it up. You could cover concepts like value propositions, customer discovery, pivoting, red ocean/blue ocean etc… Bring it together and ask students to end the video and decide if this is a feasible opportunity. Send them back to the wiki, write out if it is a go or no-go and have them repost it to a discussion to share their ideas and decisions with their classmates.

In each example we have the same content and both can fit within 90 minutes. However, there are quite a few more benefits in the P.O.L.E. Method . For one thing it plays to the strength of the student attention span. Next, students are no longer passive recipients of information, instead they become active agents.

Furthermore, it turns a lecture into an experiential exercise, which increases the efficacy of learning**. And lastly, what was once a lecture has become a personally meaningful project for the student, again increasing learning efficacy***.

You  can replicate the P.O.L.E. method at any level and any subject area.   Use the new paradigm of online education to open up all the possibilities to engage your students online. And when you want to give them an assessment or credential the student, you’ll know who to call.



*This is a simplistic example of one lecture that can be expanded into a full semester long course. Please excuse its simplicity for the sake of the POLE Method example.
**Citation: Morris & Kaplan, 2014
***Citation: Jenkins, 2006 and Peppler &  Kafai, 2007