Tuesday, December 17, 2013

MOOCs For Teacher Training–Not a Fan

Mark Guzdial shared some news about Google’s CS4HS program on Facebook today.

Google's program to fund high school teacher professional development in CS will no longer fund face-to-face workshops. All on-line ONLY. Wish we could have figured out how to do online CS teacher workshops effectively first.https://docs.google.com/forms/d/155ZYLilZBNVUHcCFwmTl0VGjpc8ZGqutoH888tWbO_4/viewform

This seems like a big step backwards. I think I understand why Google is doing this based on my own experiences working at a large company talking about doing teacher training. That doesn’t mean I think it is a good idea.

In-person training is expensive and resource intensive. There are trainers to send and pay, venues to find and pay for, and resources to prepare and distribute. It’s costly. And all too often the turn out is disappointing.  Companies struggle to calculate a good return on investment to justify the spending to upper management. What seems cost effective for a class of 20 to 25 seems like a bad deal when only 10 teachers show up. And that happens a lot.

Online training looks like the answer. “Put a bunch of videos up!” Or run online in Lync or Skype or Google Hangouts. No travel. No venue. It scales! But does it work? Not so much.

It’s like the old joke. A man is on his hands and knees looking for a dropped item. He is asked where he dropped it. The reply is “around the corner but the light is better here.”

MOOCs are where “the light is better.” The early returns are that MOOCs are less effective than in person training and have low completion rates.

The online “solution” misses out on some of the other great value of face to face professional development. A large part of the value for many is the conversation during breaks and meals. The chance to discuss things one on one or in small groups of teachers informally is priceless. That’s not there in online training. If online were enough we’d be fine with Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the popular CS education email lists/forums. But we’re not. We need that in real life interaction.

Companies are for profit organizations. Money for teacher training is hard to come by and requires some innovative cost justification. It usually comes from marketing money which requires someone to explain why spending it will lead to sales. Sometimes it comes from other parts of a company who have goals of community relations or recruiting. There funding is easier to justify but the amounts of money are generally smaller. Companies spend more when the payoff it higher in terms of income compared to “good will.”

Still I think that companies in computer technology have a vested interest in funding training for computer science teachers. They need the computer educated population for their market to continue to grow. The return on investment may be difficult to calculate but I for one believe it is real. While MOOCs seem like a cost effective way to deliver teacher training I am not convinced that it is as cost effective as it appears. Maybe one day we’ll know how to do it well but I am not convinced we are there yet


Garth said...

This looks kind of like Microsoft laying off K-12 Computer Science Academic Relations Managers. Yes it does save a buck but that is the only redeeming feature. I teach a not so massive MOOC at a local community college. About 50 students. The on-line thing works great for those that really do not need the course. For those that actually need to learn it is an absolute failure. There is no substitute for being able to ask questions when they occur. Learning also involves sitting around shooting the breeze. Hard to do online.

Mike Zamansky said...

We all know the best teaching is in person with a low stu/teach ratio and I'd argue further that teaching teaching is better done as an apprenticeship. Large companies don't get this and I don't think many teaching colleges get this either (the latter point).

It's why private schools strive for small class sizes and Universities try to boast them.

It's why top athletes and musicians have private coaches and teachers and don't just go to clinics.

Now, Google isn't obligated to teach but it's just another example of this country not getting the value of a teacher in education.

Alfred Thompson said...

Mike, I agree with you completely. An apprenticeship is the ideal way to train CS teachers. Teachers need coaching. That's how I learned.

Garth, I agree with you that MOOCs work best for those who need the least help with the material.

I find that some of my student's best learning (and mine as well) comes from unplanned casual conversations or help sessions.