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Online Education Blog #5

Can Online Education Replace Conventional Classroom Teaching?

By Shlomo Maital

   My granddaughter Maya asks: “Can online education replace conventional classroom teaching?”

     My (Shlomo) background: The Coursera four-course specialty “Cracking the Creativity Code”, with many thousands of students, has proved quite successful; I get many emails from all over the world. It was a team effort, with great Technion support. We learned a lot. Here is a major conclusion, in response to Maya, from a much stronger expert than me:

     “Michelle Weise, who blogs at Harvard Business Review, argues persuasively that the “real revolution in online education isn’t MOOCs”. Instead, it is called “online competency-based education – and it’s going to revolutionize the workforce”. She argues:   Say a newly minted graduate with a degree in history realizes that in order to attain her dream job at Facebook, she needs some experience with social media marketing. Going back to school is not a desirable option, and many schools don’t even offer relevant courses in social media. Where is the affordable accessible, targeted and high-quality program that she needs to skill-up?   On-line competency based education is the key to filling in the skill gaps in the workplace”.   Weise’s point of view is totally consistent with the motives and demographics of current MOOC learners, who are older, many with degrees, and who seek specific skills and competencies.” *

So — for now, online education is a temporary stopgap to replace the frontal classroom teaching in schools and universities, which are for now closed.

Let’s think ‘beyond virus’ – after COVID-19. Can we use this crisis, to reflect deeply on how we learn and teach, and think about how we could do this a whole lot better? (See my blog, on life after COVID-19,…ew-from-mckinsey/  

   Some believe the greatest invention in the history of the world was public education – Schooling for all, ALL, K through 12. I tend to agree. Now – can we broaden that invention, and make education truly for all, everywhere, at all times, all ages? This means, first, broadband for all – only half the world today has Internet. What about the other half? They deserve it too. And it can be done. The wealthy countries can help. Second, rethink education. Roadmap future skills we will need – then organize online education to provide them. Or help provide them.

   Everyone talks about the Industrial Revolution 4.0.   What about launching a Public Education Revolution 2.0?

   Let’s think big. Let’s see COVID-19 as an opportunity to rethink absolutely everything about how we teach and learn. Let’s not just go back to our classrooms, as if nothing has changed. EVERYthing has changed. And it is up to us to change it for the good

* Shlomo Maital Ronit Lis-Hacohen & Abigail Barzilai. Paper available on request.


Online Education Blog #4

5 Tips from Harvard Business School

By Shlomo Maital  (with Maya Taya Arie)


Tips from Harvard Business School for online educators:

5 Essentials Tips for Teaching Online

For educators who have never taught online before—and for those brushing up on the basics—online teaching expert Bill Schiano shares his top five tips for creating a successful virtual classroom experience.

  1. Make eye contact.

If you want to engage students, you’ve got to be looking at that camera. Make your notes easy to see. If I’m looking down at my notes, you’ll see my bald spot, but you won’t see my eyes. You’re not engaged with me. Try posting a photo of your students near your webcam—remember that you’re talking to people, not a machine.

  1. Involve your students as much as possible.

Make your class session as interactive as you can. If you’re planning to just lecture, then record the lecture and make the recording available asynchronously instead. In a live session, remind yourself at least every 15 minutes to intersperse some form of interaction—be it taking questions, running polls, or calling on students to share examples, so it’s not just you speaking.

  1. Bring your best self.

As much as you can, engage yourself and show your passion. Maybe it’s with your hand gestures and vocal intonation, or maybe it’s with the conviction of your words. Remember why you became a teacher and use that energy, that sense of purpose, and convey that passion to your students. It’s even more essential online because you need to be bigger when you’re online—you’re often competing with more distractions and students who feel like they can go on mute and tune out.

  1. Remember that online connections are real connections.

Decide what the tone of your class is going to be—casual, formal, or somewhere in between. That’s going to help you decide what your assignments will look like, how you’re going to introduce your students to one another, and what it’ll feel like to be part of the community you’re building. The more you can build that community, the more your students are going to feel invested in the course, and the more likely they are to engage in the work. You want everyone in the class to want everyone else to be better. Many of your students will want that strong sense of connection, too, because they’ll miss being able to physically go to campus and talk to people.

  1. Embrace the opportunity.

You now have the opportunity to work with students online, which means they have an opportunity to learn online—this is going to help them develop skills that will be extremely useful to them in their careers. As more and more work gets done virtually, being comfortable interacting virtually and getting acclimated to the tools they’ll use in online courses will be helpful to them long term. Keep that big picture in mind whenever you’re struggling—and know that, with practice, you can absolutely translate your physical classroom skills to an online environment. 

   Excerpted from “Adapting Quickly to Teaching Online,” a webinar by Bill Schiano, Professor of Computer Information Systems at Bentley University.






Online Education Blog #3

Become Whom You Teach

By Shlomo Maital & Maya Taya Arie

   Nietzsche once wrote, insightfully, “Become who you are”. I’d like to adapt that slightly: For online educators – Become whom you teach.

My granddaughter Maya asks: “Try to imagine that you are a student, what tools would you find most effective when learning virtually?”

  Maya, that is a super question. Perhaps the most basic of all.

As a management educator, one of the hardest things I teach is to become customer-centric. I used to do an exercise with my managers: Please, stand up and speak about your product, as if you were a customer. Your product disappears, your business is broke. What do your customers miss most?

   Sounds simple? But most managers had a very hard time, especially senior ones, who had not seen or heard a customer in years.

   Same goes for us educators, especially at the college level. Take me, for instance. I’ve been teaching in college for well over 50 years. There are two generations between me and my students. Do I really understand them, their needs, their thinking, their preferences? And do I really try to?

   Some 23 years ago, Harvard Business School Professor Dorothy Leonard, along with Jeffrey Rayport, wrote a fine article, “Spark Innovation Through Empathic Design”.*  Her main point: You can ask customers what they want. Mostly they do not know. Or, you can observe them and empathize with them, BECOME them. And then when you are in their shoes and skin, figure out their needs.

   So, Maya — Online education is triply quadruply hard, because I do not have students in front of me, face to face. But I do have them on screen, with ‘chat’… So, I can think hard, who ARE these people, what do they want and need, what interests them, what do they want to learn? NOT – what do I know and have to teach them? And how are they responding?

And I do know this – After years of teaching economics and crunching numbers, the most effective teaching tool is – stories. Stories! Real people, real events, real conflict, real decisions. So this will be the subject of our  next blog – Teaching online, by the effective use of stories.

  • Harvard Business Review, Nov.-Dec. 1997.



Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital