Reversing Courses

Dec 19 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers], Learning

Back in November I had the pleasure of hearing Sal Khan, founder of, address the Association of American Medical Colleges Annual Meeting. He described how a stint of long-distance tutoring of his niece led to a revolutionary platform of free online education. He is one of those speakers who immediately connects with his audience, making  you feel like everyone can learn from him. The talk can be viewed on the AAMC website, although it does require registration through an AAMC member school.

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Now almost finished with his book, I know even more about Khan's amazing journey from hedge fund manager to educator. The One World School House: Education Reimagined begins with the journey of his talk, but pulls in adult learning theory and other educational science that supports his methods. He knew none of this when he developed his videos and software; he just instinctively moved in this direction.

A visit to the Academy videos shows very basic media. While the narrator describes a process, the lesson gets illustrated in several basic colors on a blackboard-like screen. No lighting, no faces, and no fancy animations (see below).

Very Simple

Very Simple

"Flipping lectures" has received a lot of attention in higher education in the past 5 years. Khan's methods essentially fit this model; information gets delivered by video or text book and class time is used for problem-solving and other active learning with teachers. Students like this approach, and studies to date suggest that all students do better. Students predicted to score low do well, and those predicted to do well do even better.

Last fall, when I taught fluid, electrolyte, and acid-base pathophysiology to second year medical students, I took this approach. I had text-and-figure handouts in PDF format already. I then took my PowerPoint slides and narrated them, turning them into video files the students could view whenever. Class time involved case-based questions that the students could discuss among themselves and then answer. We then went over the answers and rationale.

Yes, this took a lot of work on my part ahead of the class. It was a lot more fun for me than lecturing to a group of droopy-eyed students.

One barrier I see to flipping lectures involves video production. Faculty often complain that they do not have the software or equipment to set up the videos. They do not want to put effort into that sort of production.

Of course, nothing is necessary besides their computer with a microphone and their lecture slides. PowerPoint now has a "Save As Video File" option on both the Windows and Mac platforms. As we can see from the Khan videos, nothing fancy is required for learning. Clear presentation and illustration is most important.

I have made a video about making PowerPoint videos. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.

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