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Diving Into ‘Deeper Learning’ with High Tech High’s MOOC

One school network takes charge, offering a glimpse into innovate school models

Each year, hundreds of visitors--including journalists and researchers--flock to schools like San Diego's High Tech High or Napa Valley's New Tech High to get a glimpse of how teaching and learning can be re-invented and re-imagined.

In January 2014, thousands of MOOC participants will get an opportunity to check out and learn from High Tech High (HTH), a charter school network in San Diego, CA, from the comfort of their own homes. This will be possible due to two new MOOC's hosted by HTH's. There is Deeper Learning 101 MOOC, designed for educators to learn about schools that are challenging the traditional model of education, as well as New School Creation With Larry Rosenstock, a course in which the school network's CEO will lead participants through designing their own new school models. 

High Tech High will showcase how its classrooms incorporate the principles behind “Deeper Learning,” a new pedagogical philosophy it has developed with funding from the Hewlett Foundation, along with support from charter school networks such as Big Picture Learning, Envision Schools, Expeditionary Learning, New Tech Network, and New Visions. It combines the principles behind project-based learning, inquiry-based learning and Maker activities to give students more agency through collaboration, communicating, and thinking critically.

HTH Chief Academic Officer Ben Daley says, “Shallow learning is about racing to the textbook, trying to cover all the topics before the year rolls to an end. Deeper learning is about covering a smaller number of topics in a greater depth, making things, and presenting to a real audience.”

Over the course of nine weeks, the MOOC will offer a glimpse into how Deeper Learning is applied in schools like Expeditionary Learning, Big Picture Learning, Envision, and of course, High Tech High. Activities will include looking at student work from these schools, experiencing a “protocol” where teachers use a structured framework to guide a conversation, and a final project that will ask participants to design and implement their own deeper learning activity.

That means simply watching a video and taking a quiz won’t suffice for this MOOC. In fact, Daley thinks that would be rather ironic for a course on Deeper Learning. “I think a lot of MOOCs are not modeling deeper learning,” he says. “Because we are deeper learners,” says Daley, “we want people to go out and do something.”

With the help of MIT Media Lab’s Philip Schmidt, Daley wants to give attendees opportunities to get connected and engage one another. Live chatting and asynchronous conversations will play a big role to make this happen. The MOOC platform will use Google Hangouts to encourage real-time student interactions, and tools such as vialogues will allow for timestamped asynchronous chatting over videos.

Daley says he plans to record panel discussions ahead of time, so that panelists can have live discussions with the students as they watch the videos. Students will also be asked to Tweet in their assignments, which may include prompts like “Describe something that you have (or used to have) a fixed mindset about and why,” and use hashtags like #fixedmindset, #dlmooc and #deeperlearning in their responses.

The course is set to launch on January 20th. Currently, there are over 1,000 educators from around the world signed up, however with open enrollment that number is sure to climb between now and the end of the month. Over 62% of those who have signed up hail from the U.S., followed by the UK (5.3%), Canada (4.9%), and India (3.5%). What seems to be setting this MOOC apart from others delivered through platforms like Coursera, is that they have captured a school based audience. Over 40% of those enrolled are teachers, 18% administrators, and 7.5% instructional coaches. The rest fall into categories like university faculty (5.6%), parents (2%), students (2.5%), other educators (11%), and others (12%). Educators from all parts of the world are joining in to get an inside look into what Daley calls “a radically different image of what schools can and should be about.”

High Tech High also teamed up with University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Education to launch another MOOC earlier in the month on January 12. The course, 'New School Creation With Larry Rosenstock' will lead participants through the process of designing a school of their own in six weeks. Students will develop a school narrative, design pedagogy, and develop hiring processes.  

These MOOCs are just the beginning of schools taking charge of the re-imagining of education. Through these opportunities, educators will have the chance to learn from their peers, share what they do, and open the walls of their schools to the rest of the world. Perhaps, empowered by homegrown MOOCs, more schools will join together to share examples of how they are redesigning learning every day.

About the Author

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Christina is a staff writer at EdSurge and a former teacher with experience in high schools in New York City, San Diego, and Shanghai.

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