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Netflix for Education: You’ve Been Using My Textbook. Why Not Use My Lectures?

Technology has the potential to transform higher education, as MOOCs and online content become widely available. University students seeking to learn a topic who now have little if any choice are about to be presented with a vast array of choices. What student would not want to swap a tired professor writing slowly on a chalkboard for a well-produced series of videos and associated content, given by a world leader in the field? We are on the verge of a transformation on the scale of the transformation wrought by Gutenburg. This imminent change raises a host of fascinating and far-reaching questions.

Despite such rhetoric, most professors are still teaching in virtually the same way they were taught and their teachers were taught, stretching back decades. Students attend large live lectures, do assigned readings in a textbook, perhaps meet in small groups with teaching assistants, complete weekly assignments, and take exams. There is little consensus on what might replace this model, broadly.

The classic tradition of a university course involved a professor “writing” a lecture and then delivering it (often just reading it).  In the 20th century, particularly in the US, a much more efficient method of disseminating knowledge evolved, where the most successful “courses” evolved into textbooks, which could be adopted by teacher and learners at other institutions. In the 21st century, we can do much, much, more.

In this talk, we describe a scalable model for teaching and learning that has already enabled us to reach millions of teachers and learners around the world. The central idea is to enable other educators to “adopt” and curate online content in much the same way as they now do with textbooks. Teachers assign reading in an authoritative textbook as before, but, instead of delivering live lectures, they assign lecture videos associated with the textbook. Moreover, they make use of extensive supplementary content associated with the textbook, including online assessments (with crowdsourced feedback and automatic grading). Teachers concentrate on choosing what they want their students to learn and on preparing them for success in doing so. The approach has proven to be an efficient and effective educational experience for both teachers and learners.

Moderator: Vignesh Rajendran


James Evans

Robert Sedgewick


ASU+GSV 2020 Virtual