Saturday, March 23, 2013

Concurrent Computing as a Metaphor for Flipped Learning

This is to suggest Concurrent computing be used as a metaphor for forms of e-learning, including a more advanced form of Flipped Learning. In "MOOCs with Books: Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning" I discuss how the terms synchronous and asynchronous from computer science, have been adopted by are used by educators to described forms of on-line learning. Concurrent computing provides a rich set of concepts which could be applied to help create and measure more efficient on-line courses. This could be sued to address problems with , particularly large scale on-line courses, including Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs).

With conventional teaching, the teacher (or university lecturer) first gives a verbal discourse (lecture) to the class of students "live" in a classroom face-to-face, or remotely via a video link. The students then are set homework tasks to undertake outside class. What is described as "Flipped Learning", "flipped classroom", "flip teaching" (or less commonly backwards classroom, reverse instruction, flipping the classroom, and reverse teaching), is a technique where the student first watches a video recording of a lecture on their own outside the classroom and then undertakes exercises in the classroom (face-to-face or via a video link) with the teacher and other students. This is "flipped" in the sense that the order is reversed: the individual work comes before the group activity.

A fuller version of Flipped Learning is described by Person Education in their Flipped Learning Professional Development, which adds a third mentoring stage after the classroom:
  1. On-line prework
  2. Onsite
  3. Remote mentoring
While Pearson refer to "Onsite" (ie: classroom work)  the same process can be used with pure on-line learning. In the terminology of e-learning, the pre-work is asynchronous, the on-site synchronous and the remote mentoring could be either synchronous or asynchronous.

Concurrent computing as a Metaphor for Flipped Learning

 The "Flipped Learning" metaphor breaks down when three stages are reached. While it makes sense to talk about flipping the sequence of classroom followed by homework, it does not work for classroom followed by homework followed by mentoring.  A more general metaphor might be derived from computer science, as were the terms "asynchronous" and "synchronous" used to describe e-learning. In computer science, Concurrent computing allows  many tasks to be carried out simultaneously using a computer with multiple processors. Synchronization is used to allow two or more tasks to coordinate their work. Granularity is the ratio of computation to communication for the tasks. A supervisory program or supervisor is a computer program which schedules other programs, in concurrent computing this is a particularly difficult task and may result in a large Parallel Overhead, with excessive time taken up  coordinating the parallel tasks. The overhead can lower scalability, where adding more processors does not increase the output proportionally, as the coordination task gets more complex.  Of most relevance a Rendezvous defines when two tasks synchronize, perhaps to exchange information. In concurrent computing, the aim is to maximize the parallelism, with multiple processors each being able to carry out work, without having to wait for each other. Massively parallel computing aims to have thousands, or tens of thousands, of processors working together.

Concurrent computing could be used as a metaphor for education, with each student as a processor and the teacher as the supervisor program. As with concurrent processing, the aim in education is to allow each student to learn independently at their own pace (maxim parallelism), not being slowed down by the teacher or other students. The tasks set in the course will need to be designed with maximum granularity, so that the student spends their time on task and not checking back with the teacher. Suitable points for rendezvous will need to be built in, so that the student has required interaction with other students and teachers, but is not held up unnecessarily waiting for a responses from them. The scalability of the course will depend on minimizing work for the supervisor/teacher,  while meeting the student's needs. Just as an optimized program could be sued for massive parallel computing, an optimized course design could be used for a massive on-line course, such as a MOOC.

The concurrent computing metaphor could be taken further with some of the numerical measures used to assess the performance of parallel systems applied to education. This could be applied to assess how technically efficient a course is, in terms of the processing and communications capacity needed and its educational efficiency, in terms of how much teacher and student communications is needed. This might also be applied more broadly to conventional off-line courses, as there appears to currently be little rigorous analysis of even the most basic aspects of courses, such as how many pages of reading a student has to do or how many hours of staff time is required to respond to student queries. Instead teachers and students appear to fall into the trap of complaining they have too much to do, without any clear idea how much it is or what to do about it.

Synchronization—the Production of the Present

In researching this topic I stumbled across "Synchronization: the Production of the Present", which is the Annual Research Topic (2012 to 2013) at the Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie (IKKM), Bauhaus-Universität,  (Bauhaus University), Weimar, Germany. What drew my attention was the linking of synchronization to the definition of 'real-time':
"The process of synchronization is also called “real-time”. This denotes the opening of a temporal window, in which information is distributed, prepared, eventually visualized and which in the process allows intervention in the communicated process. Communication and the communicated become indistinguishable in the frame of the real-time window. Even a few decades ago, these real-time windows were bound to singular locations, which were highly specialized media installations and strictly secretive like military operations centers or government headquarters. Now they tend to detach themselves from a specialized fixed infrastructure. Instead they turn into “shells”, in which the individual moves more and more. The modern media habitat can therefore not be understood as a mere category of location (of a spatially shaped milieu). Rather, it becomes effective as a category of action, which is determined by a particular space-time. ..."
From: "Synchronization: the Production of the Present", IKKM, 2012

This  philosophical approach seem to have close parallels to the idea of synchronized asynchronous communication I have proposed for e-learning. That is, if the communication is synchronized sufficiently. 

It should be noted that Bauhaus University Weimar, is at the original location of the "Bauhaus" designed school named by  Walter Gropius in 1919. The Bauhaus design school moved to  Dessau in 1925, where it came to prominence and it is this (moving again, to Berlin, in 1932). The Bauhaus Dessau Foundation hosts research and education (I gave a talk on ICT and architecture for the Bauhaus Dessau 3rd trimester", in 2002.

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