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Ask HN: How do we build the new remote education system
142 points by lifeisstillgood 2 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 201 comments
My kids are in lockdown homeschooling, and sitting in on some of the live lessons you can see the cracks - very slow, kids moving at different paces, and much much harder for teacher to see who is keeping up and not.

Yet my recently hired collegue insists he spent more time learning from Youtube than from lectures at "proper" university.

There is quality "content" out there - but how do we ensure "mastery" is achieved (ie the concepts understood). It seems quite feasible but who is working on it? What are the impacts when we go back to normal?

What as time constrained parent should I look at? (beside spending "quality" time with them. They don't like that :-)

PS There are seemingly complete areas like thenational.academy or khanacademy but I am not sure how they linknsubjects to syllabus (especially US/UK syllabuses)

I'm a professor at a US university. The honest answer (at least at the university level) -- probably we don't.

From what I can tell, there's very little enthusiasm for online education, on the part of either professors or students. Pretty much everyone is eager to get back to normal, and I'm fairly confident that this is exactly what is going to happen.

For a dissenting perpsective, read Joshua Kim's columns at Inside Higher Ed:


He is a big cheerleader for online education and for major changes to university education. Personally, I don't really buy his arguments -- but his posts are extremely well written and he does work full-time at a university, so you might find him more persuasive than I do.

If remote university education becomes widespread, then I expect innovations to largely come from outside the existing system. Universities are weird workplaces, and the incentive system does not really encourage large-scale innovation.

That said, it seems that startups like edX, Coursera, etc. have not really been successes. So I'm skeptical that big changes are coming soon.

Coming from a different country I don't really know why remote is not the default option.

Listening to a professor speaking to himself from a distance of 10 meters is an awful experience compared to a video recording that you can stop/rewind. Heck, you can even take some proper notes that you will actually understand!

For labs it's not like you get any help either. You just have to follow some instructions point by point and if you do not understand something, tough luck, the professor has already moved to the next exercise.

The worst part is that you have to spend 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week like this and then you still need to find online materials to actually learn the thing. Some people have to work too.

Did I mention 2 hours of commute time every day?

> Listening to a professor speaking to himself from a distance of 10 meters is an awful experience compared to a video recording that you can stop/rewind. Heck, you can even take some proper notes that you will actually understand!

Ok. That's a win for remote.

Now my turn: how easy is it to gauge the mood of your entire class, turn to the person next to you and whisper a question or look at their notes? Go for coffee with classmates afterwards to discuss? Pull the lecturer aside or knock on their door later that day if you're stuck? Meet older students and grad students who can help you and inspire you?

People made the same "it's the future" argument for remote education when MOOCs launched. PG argues that uni's will still survive because they are certificate authorities. Both are wrong.

Peer learning is where it's at. And it's being immersed in that environment 24/7 that makes universities such special places. The learning goes beyond your set classes too - it's social, physical, it's relationships, it's hobbies and past-times and networks that will be the foundation of your identity and your life.

What we're talking about is that vs yet another Zoom call.

What I would want, and what makes sense to me, is a system that uses online material and lectures in conjunction with an in person, immersive physical meeting place where questions may be asked and problems worked through or tips given. I think that's the best of both worlds and utilizes the low-latency environment of a classroom best, while still capturing the in-person benefits you mentioned.

Unfortunately, class time is generally largely spent observing lecture, and the real meat of the learning is generally spent alone in a high latency environment (with feedback available via email or forums). I don't like going to class just to watch a video, and going home just to do problems out of a book (by myself), and that has been my experience so far.

Some of my courses in college have just flipped to this model where most of class time is spent problem-solving (to greater or lesser degrees) and it's been incredibly effective. Granted, this is at a small liberal arts college, but learning through collaboration has been much more effective than just attending lectures (that I and many others zone out of)

Exactly what I am dreaming of. :-)

> turn to the person next to you and whisper a question or look at their notes?

Person next to you has the same low quality notes you do. In my group we designated a single person to take notes and after the class you just snapped a photo, since no other materials were provided. Other people were listening and trying to understand the subject. Taking notes is distracting you from learning.

Making friends in a class of 100-200 people is hard. My friend went to a Berlin university. You are just a number there. I find it much easier to engage in a discussion using a forum.

> Meet older students

How do you approach them? You have no idea who they are. You are never in class with them. University is basically the same model as high school here. You are not picking subjects or classes, you have to follow a script. You only meet students of your year.

There are some sorts of after hours interest circles, but they start after your 6 hours of learning.

Peer learning can also be done online or after an online course.

The good parts of university are the ones that can be done outside of it, hence there's no need to visit the building at all.

Personally class time in STEM courses has always been a waste for me. If it wasn't required for my degrees, I would just learn everything on my own, pass the tests and complete the assignments. OTOH I also attended a great books discussion based course and there the class time was essential to really dig into the texts. However, even that can be zoomified with a disciplined enough group.

Yeah, I'd be happy with a self study model where I could also ask occasional questions of a teaching assistant or better-informed peer, ideally over a voice connection so the latency between questions is minimized. Most online teaching models lack this but could benefit greatly from adding just a little rapid give-and-take to resolve the inevitable obstruction.

I think when VR technology improves a bit more it'll be the superior learning experience.

Imagine learning history interactively. Don't just read about Julius Caesar being stabbed, why not stab him yourself?

You could explore physics in a sandbox environment. Learn geography by going there. Practice theater by performing.

Grabbing a cup of coffee is fun but so is hopping into a game of virtual paintball.

I'm not really sure if actually doing something will be effective for say learning history. I think of all the odd activities teachers had me do, and I kind of wish they just told me the story, but I'm a guy who now listens to history podcast so may just be personal.

Also think of all the odd physics demonstrations and I'm not sure they really often enhanced my knowledge more than a gif would of especially versus the expense. Does anyone know of any research around this area?

What is the rate of data processing of a human’s sensory organs? Until VR output data at that rate to every human sense being in VR will be less stimulating than being in real space. I think this is especially true of social environments, were subtle body language, facial movements, touch and smell are critically important.

Being around a group of people is easily 20x more stimulating to me than any VR experience I’ve had, and I’ve experience the state of the art in VR. Spending day after day, year after year, going to classes with the same group of peers was very socially validating and helped me be more engaged with my time at school.

I personally know 3 people who get pretty ill from VR, so that's not an option for everyone.

I've heard accounts of conferences where the attendees ad-hoc setup a collaborate editing environment while the presentation was going on with the facility wifi, and organized notes, formed questions and generally improved the quality of the interaction with the group. IMHO this goes a long away to replacing the "peer to peer" interaction when you're in the audience, and has a potential to engage the learners more.

I imagine K-12 Remote learning is hesitant to do that so as to not lose control of the messaging. The teacher has enough burden to make sure their lesson is communicated effectively; that moderating a realtime chat is just not possible.

From my own anecdotal experience with my kids, I have one is super hesitant to stick their neck out and participate where the whole group can see (either on video, or embarrassed for asking too many questions), where this model might bring more anxiety.

This is frustratingly not an easy problem to solve.

In my country, most classroom have an unofficial facebook group or discord channel. My little sister (20y) organizes zoom call for her own group of classroom friend to work together. They work but also chitchat, comment world politics, social issue, etc. It is awesome to assist.

> Listening to a professor speaking to himself from a distance of 10 meters is an awful experience compared to a video recording that you can stop/rewind. Heck, you can even take some proper notes that you will actually understand!

My wife is a professor.

What you say is true for some students. But for some students it appears that paying attention is much harder when it is a video vs the same material presented in a live lecture. I can't fully explain it, but "I struggle to pay attention to video lectures" is a surprisingly common response from people who have been strong students in prior years.

Can't pay attention to video lectures at the best of times is part of it, but I also think being consistently understimulated causes people to shut down the learning process.

I've attended both kinds of credit-granting uni courses, and I agree that watching a recorded video is indeed less involving. But video is also so much easier than a live lecture to stop, rewind, repeat, or play 50% slower/faster that I can't conclude either is clearly superior.

I'd say superiority mostly comes down to the quality of the instruction — clarity, good organization of fundamentals, then broad and deep enumeration of concepts that build meaningfully on those fundamentals. In my experience, few professors value teaching enough to master it. When one does, I'd very much like to be able to attend such a lecture.

Maybe the best of both worlds is to deliberately supplement primary content with outstanding reference material like Kahn Academy or Three Blue One Brown. Being able to drill down on difficult concepts from multiple perspectives is often a great way to resolve obstructions in any kind of teaching method.

My lived experience of pre recorded video lectures is they are a poor facsimile for the real thing for 3 main reasons.

1) I can’t ask questions - dynamically engaging with the material during the lecture is far more important for retention than making a perfect set of notes so not having that engagement really reduces your learning.

2) attention span / investment - taking notes amongst your peers who are also doing the same is easier and more enjoyable than doing the same on your own, something that is easier to do takes less of my mental energy which is my most precious resource when I’m trying to actually learn.

3) lack of peer interaction - most of the learning experience that is really beneficial long term isn’t about you having 100% recall on demand of every detail you were taught but how to use the ideas to solve actual problems. Much of that comes through practice and experimentation with your peers, which simply doesn’t work via zoom.

True, but Q&A makes up a tiny fraction of most lectures I've attended, and attention span can be improved by shortening the duration of each lecture.

However, I'd agree that lack of dynamic peer interaction is a big problem with video-based instruction that hasn't yet been fixed. I've seen attempts to address this like Piazza where students can post questions or answer others', but text-based forums lack graphical or temporal cues that many concept demand. Maybe some sort of multiuser video supplement might help, where the question poser could snip the time mark of a puzzling section from the lecture or an illustration from another video and refer to it in source so others could visualize with a click the point being asked?

For labs it's not like you get any help either. You just have to follow some instructions point by point and if you do not understand something, tough luck, the professor has already moved to the next exercise.

People shouldn't just accept this sort of thing as normal. You're paying (in the US or UK anyway) a lot of money for a degree level education. That means it needs to be fit for purpose, and if you're not learning then it isn't. You need to stop the lecturer and ask them to go over the point you didn't understand, or ask for additional time after the lab, or at a push, make a complaint to the course leader that the lecturer isn't teaching you well enough.

Learning to stand up for yourself and ask for what you need is a big part of the university experience.

Education is "free" (paid by taxes) where I come from (Poland). Private universities are not very popular.

> People shouldn't just accept this sort of thing as normal

It's not "normal", but it's the norm. It's not the fault of the professors, because the truth is they should not teach in the first place, but the education system requires them to.

> make a complaint to the course leader that the lecturer isn't teaching you well enough.

There's no such thing here as the course leader. Most of the time you have a prof. responsible for the theory and another one for the practice.

You can complain to the dean (what multiple students did), but there's no replacement or no one cares.

I don't want to put any blame on the teachers here. I see this as a systemic issue.

> Education is "free" (paid by taxes) where I come from (Poland).

If the people of your country are gifting you free education, you have even a higher responsibility to ensure that their efforts are not wasted.

> Learning to stand up for yourself and ask for what you need is a big part of the university experience.

You're not graded on standing up for yourself.

In this area universities are not different from standing in line or negotiating a job offer.

> You need to stop the lecturer and ask them to go over the point you didn't understand, or ask for additional time after the lab, or at a push, make a complaint to the course leader that the lecturer isn't teaching you well enough.

I foresee this strategy ending badly for a number of professors I've had.

Professor here. Any professor that punishes you for asking for stuff/asking for time is not doing their job and you should feel happy to complain about them. Ditto if they bawl you out or make you feel bad. Don't tolerate it.

>For labs it's not like you get any help either.

That's never been the case in any of my lab classes from multiple departments. The whole reason you have TAs is so you can ask questions constantly and get instant feedback. Stuck on something during a lab? Flag down the TA and they will set you right. Drop your test tube full of precurser during organic chemistry lab on the floor? No worries, the TA appears moments later with an aliquot of precurser to give you so you can proceed with the lab exercise. Motion detector not working during physics lab? The TA gives you a new one out of the equipment closet or helps you troubleshoot the lab software.

I actually taught a remote version of a lab class this semester and it was horrible. You can't learn lab techniques by watching videos and slideshows or using various virtual lab simulation programs; you gotta get your hands on these things. You wouldn't know how finicky a western blot is until you've accidentally ripped your gel cracking it out of the precast case trying to transfer it to your membrane; all you get on the virtual format is 'be careful,' rather than training sufficient to start work in a research lab immediately.

Yeah, it's tough to learn cadaver-based anatomy at home too.

> [...] a video recording that you can stop/rewind. Heck, you can even take some proper notes that you will actually understand!

You forgot to mention the most important thing -- the ability to change the playback speed to create the "cognitive load" level engaging for you. This chrome plugin has been a tremendously useful for my learning https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/video-speed-contro... Video speed control during playback is like a impedance-matching transformer between the "bitrate" of the lecturer and the listener.

>Listening to a professor speaking to himself from a distance of 10 meters

But is that the default, common experience? I'm asking seriously: I finished my bachelor's 30 years ago and my master's 15 years ago and that has never been my experience.

Our professors were actual people we talked and interacted with, even the boring ones. And they made an effort to teach. Now, I didn't go to a huge "research" university, where I hear it's common to get profs who have no interest in teaching, but what you describe isn't remotely like what I encountered.

Yeah, the best classes I've attended began with you reading material (textbook or papers) before lecture, then revisiting that content during lecture. Ideally the prof devises a lecture agenda where discussion revolves around subtleties in the material, both clarifying Q&A and implications and exceptions and to the material. Appreciating the context and relevance of your research-based material adds a lot to appreciating how it changed the status quo.

You need to find a new university. If your courses are "Listening to a professor speaking to himself from a distance of 10 meters" then your professor is incompetent or lazy.

> You need to find a new university

Chances are you will have a similar experience. I'm not speaking about a single professor. I'm speaking about 9 out of 10. I'm not blaming professors tough.

My friends have similar experience at other universities in Poland. Friends who went to German universities have a completely different experience. They actually use some LMS, provide online recordings of the classes and spend 1/3rd of the time at university.

I feel like the misery of online education comes from the lack of consistency. One professor may drone on and on for a few hours during the lecture and have no "showmanship". Another may refuse to put his lectures online and demands that you he there at 8:30 am to watch the lecture live and only live. Some professors just refuse to change with the times. Too many educators want to try and fit an in-person education style into an online format. That's the wrong way to go about it.

I kind of agree. Among all the professors I had when I did my bachelor, perhaps one or two were worth listening to in person (because you could interrupt them and ask questions if needed. They really knew their subjects and were good communicators). All the knowledge the other professors were broadcasting was vastly inferior in comparision to reading the top two books (from cover to cover) for their given lecture.

I went to a University of California some 15-20 years ago for undergrad and none of your 4 points are true in my experience.

> Listening to a professor speaking to himself from a distance of 10 meters is an awful experience compared to a video recording that you can stop/rewind.

It's not an awful experience, in fact, you can often ask questions during or after lectures. It also has the benefit of being similar to the stage of life you just came from (high school, for most students), so you're not switching to a different mode of learning.

> For labs it's not like you get any help either. You just have to follow some instructions point by point and if you do not understand something, tough luck, the professor has already moved to the next exercise.

All labs sessions I've had always had a TA present. I've gotten countless help from the TAs during lab sessions. The only times they're not there is if you start early or stay late and they've left. TAs also lead discussion sections. In general they are a huge help and it's their job to help students because a professor can't always be there.

> The worst part is that you have to spend 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week like this and then you still need to find online materials to actually learn the thing. Some people have to work too.

This is simply false. I was a full time student and took a full 15+ units per quarter (which is more than average) and it was barely 2-3 hours of lecture a day on average over 5 days, plus ~1 hour of discussion section per day on average. Most of the rest of time is intended to be for homeworks, studying, lab sessions, etc.

Maybe I'm too old and times were different, but we've never had to find online materials to accompany anything we learned over classes, in all of my classes (computer science or others). Everything we needed was included in textbooks, notes from the professor, or discussed in lectures/classes. Also, I know I might be of the minority opinion here, but I actually did find much of the knowledge from computer science classes helpful for future work (been a software engineer for 15 yerars now).

> Did I mention 2 hours of commute time every day?

I don't know what it's like outside the US, but in the US it's common for students graduating high school and going to college to leave their hometown and rent an apartment in their new college town. Commutes are typically under 15 minutes by bike/walk/bus in my college town. You could live literally in any part of that (small) city and be within 15 minutes from campus one way or another.

It's not really about the most efficient, easily consumable delivery of information from point A to B. Students are really "consuming" a bundle of knowledge, skills, experiences, credentials, reptutation and social networks. There's not much incentive to move online (Prof at a UK university)

> Coming from a different country I don't really know why remote is not the default option.

Purely online courses have large failure rates - even when students pay and are comparable to in person ones. For whatever reason, people do better in person course and do badly in online ones.

For what it's worth, your experience is not universal.

US university professor too. I agree with this:

> Pretty much everyone is eager to get back to normal, and I'm fairly confident that this is exactly what is going to happen.

There's no substitute for in-person education. For years, I heard from the online education cheerleaders that online can be better. Online can be a quality experience, but you can't build the same relationships, develop the same comfort with asking questions, or deliver the same set of intangibles in an online setting.

That said, I think hybrid classes are probably better. Some material is better taught in an async fashion. The big limitation of in-person education is that you have no choice but to schedule a fixed block of time for meetings. The flexibility of async means students can go through certain types of material at the right pace for themselves.

> it seems that startups like edX, Coursera, etc. have not really been successes

These options aren't university classes. They're the next generation of textbooks.

> I think hybrid classes are probably better.

Back in 2000/2001, my high school was experimenting with Cisco classes. We did modules online, but the teacher was in the room to answer any questions and to oversee projects as we networked servers together, etc.

It was great! I remember thinking this was the way all education should be done, and that it was inevitable that it would become the standard.

I don't know that I still consider it inevitable, but it worked well.

Contrast that to my experience in university... the endless lecture halls, overpriced text books, and emphasis on memorization over understanding. Absurd.

Equally absurd: Online courses. I'm big on self-directed learning, but the problem with online courses is that you're on your own. This is a problem when you run into subjects where you don't even know what it is that you don't know. (You can only Google for solutions if you know what to Google in the first place.)

So I like the idea of the hybrid model: Let the student take the lead, provide all the online tools needed, but do so in a supportive environment where problems can be troubleshot immediately with a teacher.

> These options aren't university classes. They're the next generation of textbooks.

Totally off topic, but if students were already paying $300 for a paper calculus book, I shudder to think of the extortion we'll see over the virtual, multimedia,cloud-optimized, probably-built-in-Adobe-Flash monstrosity that will be the "next generation of textbooks".

Not to mention the university library has a couple copies of that $300 textbook on reserve for you, so if you were doing your studying at the library anyway there isn't any reason to shell out. I would even take pictures of salient chapters with my phone if I really needed to take the content home.

Online only, there would be no avoiding those mandatory fees. Libraries don't have homework codes on reserve.

> Some material is better taught in an async fashion.

Based on the experience of teaching this semester by multiple colleagues, the problem, of course, is that students will not consume that material at all. If you try to do short quizzes to ensure they watched it, they will cheat, or just take the grade penalty.

The problem with online is that the the modicum of shame present in offline classes that forces them to pay some attention, is almost completely gone.

If we're going to base our educational system in shaming and pushing "knowledge" down the throat of uninterested group of ppl, then we might want to start asking "why are these ppl uninterested?" and "how we can change that?", "why uninterested parties in X took the subject", etc.

Shame is completely natural emotion that exists in a wide variety of human social interactions to modulate behavior. Sometimes it is negative, sometimes it is positive. Here is a positive example: https://habitica.com/

In education, fear of failing your in front of your peers or teachers is a strong motivator for most people. It is a positive thing in most such cases.

> "why uninterested parties in X took the subject"

As for this, it is known, that sometimes in life we have to beneficial things that we hate. Like washing the dishes. We are not "basing our educational system on it", but part of it will often be beneficial+uninteresting.

You can be generally interested in subject and still not be in mood to pay attention this week. It is completely normal for humans to have ups and downs in motivation or to find some part of material more interesting then others. Or to be tired because you stayed too late last night. It is also completely normal for humans to be disorganized or procastinate.

School system that assumes that everyone is perfectly motivated, organized and disciplined at all times will fail a lot.

Second, many people are motivated by social contact with other people who do the same thing. By both competition and mutual help. That is again quite normal for humans and these people will find watching videos more boring.

Yep, this is what I've noticed at the high school level. Only the self-motivated kids, and the kids who want to learn and pass are learning and passing. The others just don't even have to give a pretense of it anymore since they're not physically there.

I can only imagine how people think fully remote learning will work long term, without an overhaul in how our education system is structured (does everyone need to know algebra 2 or how to balance chemical reactions?)

The best thing to do when coming back from covid and resuming in-person classes would be to try and take the good parts of online learning and keep them. For example, every professor should record their lectures to make them available anytime. Although, I can already see a bunch of professors complaining that if the students can watch the lectures later, they won't come to the live lecture.

Professors at university don't really care about attendance, since you are an adult and can make your own decisions with your education. Attendance was never tallied during my undergrad. Some of mine would make a joke of it about how the class seems to triple in population on exam day.

I work with professors at a university, the amount of times I've heard them complain about low attendance rates makes me think otherwise.

Yes, professors don't usually TAKE attendance but they do make a big fuss when they notice half the class missing even if it's because the other half of class watches the lectures on their own time.

>> I'm a professor at a US university. The honest answer (at least at the university level) -- probably we don't.

>> From what I can tell, there's very little enthusiasm for online education, on the part of either professors or students.

This isnt surprising -- you are probably polling people inside the system -- what about the many more people who cant join the system? I'll bet they have a very different opinion.

The US educational system, especially graduate education, is a game of money. Even those graduate students who are on grants are only the lucky ones who don't have sufficiently large family obligations to fulfill and can therefore stay on a graduate grant. Think of how many people need to work at their parents' shop, have to take care of a grandparent, sick elderly parents at home, those who are also caring for younger siblings, those w/o sufficient disposable income to sit around at quads sipping lattes.

Consider all the people who couldn't pay to play that game. I'm sure they would love an alternative.

Also consider the opposite problem -- people with money who do not want to take off two years (without income) to get a graduate degree, or worse, move their families to one of several key cities with top universities. They would also like an alternative that is mostly remote.

Aren't the people inside the system the ones you should be listening to most? You talk about surivivorship bias in university students, but I think it's a lot more likely that the survivorship bias is really, "people who value education". That is, the people currently in traditional university are by and large the majority of the people in whatever hypothetical online next-gen education system you're imagining.

I think it's really unlikely there are a whole lot of geniuses for whom school, "just doesn't work". I've met a lot of people who think of themselves like this, and honestly, they're usually just stupid or lazy. High achievers figure out ways to take advantage of the systems that are in place, they don't admit defeat and blame "the system" for their failure.

I respectfully disagree. Lets take a simple case I know of personally -- a family with children.

A remote graduate program with evening classes works for a lot of people. A program where you need to commute into the city, commute back late at night after group meetings, or change cities all-together is just not practical for all but the wealthiest individuals (those who can afford 18hr nannies).

Those who aren't wealthy enough to do that aren't stupid or lazy, they are just lacking wealth.

Consider also that hundreds of millions of people live within un-commuteable distance to a university. They aren't stupid or lazy -- they are just unlucky -- they happened to grow up or settle in a particular area.

I think this is correct. Students who thrive in a lecture environment make it to Universities. Professors who are fantastic lecturers get jobs at Universities.

Have you heard of OMSCS? The online revolution is already happening. Many schools are moving to copy the model.

I've been in OMSCS for almost 5 years now. I can assuredly say that remote university education works incredibly well. Even better than in person in many respects. Not only that, but I truly believe it is vital to ensuring equal access to high quality education.

The current university system with 5% acceptance rates, 40k / year college fees, is untenable and just exacerbates class division. It's an antiquated system, and the move to fully remote degrees can't happen soon enough.

I would like to see a platform take this even further, as OMSCS still seems to be tied to an antiquated model of education where students have limited freedom of choice.

If a school chooses any of say teachers / projects / learning material sub-optimally, why should a student need to suffer through?

Taking a look at 3blue1brown video comments, you see many students expressing that their tuition paid professor had failed them and they didn't truly have an intuition for the topic until after watching the 3blue1brown video.

Ideally, a decentralized model surfaces the best to the top so that everyone can learn from, and the creators be rewarded as such.

Beyond that, the new model should do away with timed blocks in favor of true self pacing. This accommodates people with limited time, handles emergencies well, and enables quick learners to accelerate their path without any special permissions required.

The platform should be as 'hands off' as possible, providing only the connections between the creators, tutors, certifiers, students, and recruiters.

It should have no admissions process, and ideally be free. Traditional colleges do a lot of gatekeeping. Education should be accessible to anyone. Let students pursue education, regardless of their presumed 'chance of success', or financial status.

Two comments:

First, what's OMSCS? Could you supply a bit more detail rather than just "have you heard of it"? What is it? What's good about it?

Second, 5% acceptance rates are not typical of "the current university system". That's only a few "elite" schools. 40k/year may be more typical, but you can easily find less than half that.

OMSCS is Georgia Tech's Online CS Master's program[0]. I'm starting my ninth class this term. Here's my take...


- video lectures are generally pretty polished, and include animations and other visual aids to help build intuition

- the course material is mostly high quality. this is the same material that on-site graduate students are presented, and the graded projects are challenging.

- there is opportunity to interact with other students and TAs: online message board, video office hours, unofficial Slack, etc.

- flexible enough to schedule around a full-time job

- inexpensive compared to in-person programs (the entire program with 10 courses is $7-$8k)


- quality of materials, TAs, and organization can vary from course to course and term to term

- harder to build relationships / network than in-person programs

- it's course-based by default. you can pursue a research-based degree but it's nonstandard.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Tech_Online_Master_of_...

I mostly agree with this.

I'd say compared to my undergrad, the teaching quality is overall better. Which makes sense, since pedagogy is much more of a deliberate focus for OMSCS. I think this is a big advantage to online programs actually. There are definitely some rough patches, but the program is still young, and constantly improving.

Networking is much better too in my opinion, compared to my undergrad - you are in a class with full time professionals in a wide range of companies and industries - from software engineers to execs. There are many opportunities for networking. You do need to be involved in Slack/Piazza though, which takes time.

Becoming a TA is also the path to getting involved in research and even going into a PhD program after OMSCS. Very few people do this as it is a very large time commitment - but it is possible and professors generally are open to it.

I would love for that to be available in undergrad programs, and in more majors than just CS.

Follow-up question: How hard is it to get into? Are there restrictions on how many students can take each class?

I was watching a podcast recently on this where they mention a 60% acceptance rate:


Also link to reddit discussion:


5-10% for top schools typically is where I got my number from. MIT, Stanford, Caltech, UCLA, UCB all are around this range for CS. Slightly more accepting schools jump up to 10-20% range. But all these schools are rejecting huge swaths of qualified candidates, simply because they don't have the space in a traditional campus setting.

I feel like the biggest value is a hybrid version: the standard curriculum online and smaller classes offline.

The large group lectures I've always felt were a waste of time. The lecturers just explain what's in the book anyway and most of them, except for a few natural talents, are boring as hell. And I always felt I read faster then they speak.

Most university lecturers hardly get educated in how to teach, and most of them also don't care, the consider it the duty of the student to pay attention. A lot of time and money could be saved to move many of the standard curriculum to a online video / textbook course.

I feel like the true value is in the smaller work groups where one gets direct feedback on your work. This is something that the online universities are not able to recreate. And of course making friends, discussing, building a network, having time to think, sports, hanging out.

So a hybrid might improve the quality of the courses while giving a chance to optimize the offline experience.

Anecdata from major UK university: students _hate_ remote teaching and want to go back to lectures ASAP.

When I was at uni a few years ago, I ended up skipping most of my lectures and watching them online instead, worked better for me in that I could watch them at a time that suited me better, watch at 2x speed, go back and rewatch things I didn't understand. Compared to cramming into a lecture theatre with 200 other students in some cases.

That said tutorials and labs being in person were pretty essential, I wouldn't have liked to do that remotely.

Probably a combination that varies for different people is the best.

Perhaps, but for certain in this anecdata (hundreds of students), it is overwhelmingly the case that the students do not have your preference. May not be representative.

Kudos for stating your position but also presenting an opposing view. HN, heck the world, needs more of that.

There is a substantial amount of inertia in the educational system: knowhow, routines, supporting systems, teachers and professors that have been tailormade for the brick-and-mortar type of educational systems that have been the norm since the beginning of the last century, or earlier.

This inertia naturally causes some friction against the trajectory towards remote education- but not yet to the level of putting up a fight. But expect this conflict deepen just as it has with news media, as the financial foundation of traditional educational systems slowly erodes in favor of the (coming) much more flexible and cheaper online systems.

What is your take on "inverted" classrooms?

My perspective from talking to younger people (I haven't been a student for decades) is that traditional classrooms were better for some learning styles than others. Inverted classrooms are better for some students that had trouble with the normal approach, but are worse for students who thrived under the normal approach. It's not a clear net win in terms of "helping more people".

But that's my experience from talking to a very small sample. Do you have an opinion?

> From what I can tell, there's very little enthusiasm for online education, on the part of either professors or students. Pretty much everyone is eager to get back to normal, and I'm fairly confident that this is exactly what is going to happen.

This is probably true from a faculty and student position. However, as an IT person for a university, nothing would get me to quit faster than being forced back into the office. I would leave this job in a heartbeat and go make WAAAAAAY more working a remote job in industry. Given current hiring freezes, budget shortfalls, and low, uncompetitive salary ranges, I don't think universities are in a position to lose many IT personnel.

I'm not the only staff member who thinks this. Universities should prepare for a mass staff exodus if they try to get us back on campus.

> That said, it seems that startups like edX, Coursera, etc. have not really been successes. So I'm skeptical that big changes are coming soon.

In what way are you measuring success here? They have not replaced traditional education/colleges but its very likely that a larger percentage of the people on this site have purchased and learned something from a online technical course.

To build upon this answer a little bit, people want to go back in person not for the educational reasons but for social reasons. While you can learn in an online format and (with enough work/investment) make the experience similar to in-person classes, you cannot replace the social aspects of college with an online environment.

US colleges have been moving from a learning experience towards a social experience build on to of learning (see, for example, https://www.nber.org/papers/w18745).

My university was in person last fall but classes mostly online, students still socialized (e.g., partied) even if health recommendations were strongly recommend against it.

Personally I've always wanted to see two things in education, or rather one thing in two parts: to be able to verbally "test out" of a written exam or even an entire semester-long class. This can be handled over Skype/Zoom, if need be.

That is, allow students to have a discussion with the professor to see if they know the test material. If so, "great, here's your grade". Same with entire semester classes ("great, here's your 3 credits").

Why verbally?

Would the ability to take an exam without sitting the course satisfy you?

I would guess that a verbal one-on-one exam would show the professor who understands the material vs who doesn't, but also who actually understands it vs who just used rote memorization.

The latter comparison might end up being a distinction without a difference, as far as grading goes. But, were I the professor, I'd be interested to see how many of my students are understanding the material on a holistic level. This is my bias, though, because I'm way more interested in knowing why something occurred (and its relationship to other events) vs that it occurred on [insert date] and involved [insert individuals].

That sounds like cheating.

My biggest realisation was seeing students undergo a realisation that the information is the least important bit about university. Now that its all so digestible, repeatable theyve either realised theyre not that talented/important/capable and that a lot of what makes a successful graduate is personal skills, applying themselves, being strategic and attitude.

Counterpoint: WGU's set your own pace online learning is absolutely fantastic for responsible adults who want to grind out a regionally accredited degree fast and affordably. They built their system remote only from the start.

Exactly. For k-12 this year will be the end of lockdown.edu. Parents will go into revolt otherwise. The government can't afford a scenario that pits working parents against the primary target cohort of covid (old and obese) because the electoral prospects are frightening. Stay-at-home schools means stay-at-home parents and the implications of eighteen more months of income-by-stimulus isn't on anyone's radar

If remote or partially remote education is to become the default, you have to scrap the teacher-students-classroom model; it hardly works in real life and it's even worse when not happening in a physical space.

Moving to a fully asynchronous model is the only way you can maintain any semblance of educational standards. Put content online, have the students access it at their own leisure. Use the saved time to arrange live QA/interactive sessions for the teachers to unblock the students if they need that (it is also a nice excuse to silently check everyone's progress). Quit the cheating/surveillance arms race, fully embrace open-book tests and oral exams.

I'd also say, try really hard not to go full remote, at least for middle school and below. There are advantages to both approaches, and a completely remote education is much harder to make work.

What individuals can do, I'm not really sure, I guess it depends on what your local school is doing/allows at the moment. Fighting the bureaucracy hardly worth anybody's time.

I'm personally appalled that instead of leaning hard into a "flipped classroom model" by having kids watch (or read!) lectures on material on their own, and then working in small groups with their teacher, the US public school system has instead doubled-down on just retrofitting the classroom environment into remote hell.

As a developer it's difficult enough trying to remain engaged on any remote meeting with more than 5 participants, I can't fathom how kids behave.

I imagine a huge component is the school-system-as-babysitting dynamic. If kids were left to their own devices to learn without any adult supervision it's possible (likely even) that they'd end up distracted at best, or at rick of causing or experiencing damage to themselves or their environment at worst.

So... I guess I'm not sure what the model ought to be. I'm sure there's some contrast to be found to cultures where there's more live-in family (grandparents, aunts uncles etc.) than you find in American/Western households.

So I'm a secondary school teacher, and I have tried this. Several times, with several classes (math and introductory chemistry/physics). The issue is the kids think of it as not having any work. So they do nothing while at home, which then means I end up having to teach the content anyway. It just doesn't work because the kids are responsible and refuse to do stuff at home, meaning I have to teach what they should've learned and at least been able to discuss.

And it's not a matter of them not understanding the material, it's that they openly admit they didn't watch/read it and don't think they have to.

I sometimes was one of the students who didn't do the reading. Almost always one or more of the following was true: 1. The reading wasn't immediately relevant to getting a decent grade in the class. 2. The class was obscenely boring and in no way relevant to my future life. 3. The whole class didn't do it either so we where going to repeat the whole thing in class anyway.

> 2. The class was obscenely boring and in no way relevant to my future life.

This is the attitude that I think is the problem. It comes down to what we think the purpose of education should be, and that's where there's a fundamental disconnect. For what it's worth, I see the point, but I think the purpose of education should be producing a student with basic understanding of a variety of subjects, not just teaching what is relevant to their future life.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Do you think it would be effective to segregate students by ability and/or motivation? That way you could let the motivated/interested/whatever students self-direct, and otherwise more efficiently spend your time with those who aren't self-motivated?

I think that's absolutely the key, honestly and it's why I'm a fan of AP/accelerated courses where at all possible. I also think ability grouping is great as you can work with students of lower ability without having to worry about those with higher ability being bored. I think that you need contact with those who aren't self-motivated, even if that's live classes they have to attend, as then they know there's accountability. But I do think that a good self-motivated learner, who knows how to learn would greatly benefit from just reading texts/watching quality videos (while taking notes) and having a teacher to basically ask questions to when needed.

Sadly, I'm not sure how much of the grouping I'd like to see is legal. I know my school got in trouble for offering 'Core' classes which were basically remedial education classes in core content areas (So you'd have 'accelerated algebra 2', 'algebra 2' and 'core algebra 2'), which worked as you could find ways to focus on real-life examples for those students, but gave rise to a host of other issues. But, overall, I see the only real way to do online learning entirely is through group segregation, at least at the secondary level. Hearing some of our AP teachers complain, it'd almost need to be a double split -- one on ability and one on motivation.

Of course, a lot of the latter, in my opinion, stems from the culture of the area. Sadly I'm in a rural area where well-paying jobs used to be plentiful right out of high school (or even without a degree!) and so a very anti-intellectual culture developed. Sadly, even though those jobs aren't present, the culture stays as most who have other values move out and leave. Me and a few of my colleagues (all from the area) are exceptions, but I know several of us would leave if we could. So you're also fighting a cultural battle on top of all the other stuff.

Thinking on this more: There's a high level of self-direction required of students in a flipped classroom model, and by my experience in the US public school system, the kids who're already doing well will do just fine in a flipped (or otherwise self-directed) model, but the at-risk kids are the ones who would need more attention--just like in the classroom.

So I'm friends with one college student, and she hates flipped classrooms. It's not because she's irresponsible, either. (This is college, not high school.) She feels like it takes more time and she gets less out of it. It really doesn't work for her.

So I think that

> the kids who're already doing well will do just fine in a flipped (or otherwise self-directed) model

is not true in all cases. I suspect she's not the only outlier, either.

I concur. When we tried these things in undergrad, it would be three people on their phone, three people giving an earnest effort but having no clue what to do, and one person who actually understood what was going on being burdened to drag the other people through the exercise like an unpaid TA. If there was more than one person who understood what was going on that was almost a bigger issue, running into the 'too many chiefs and not enough indians' problem which kills productivity and ends in frustration on all sides.

Ahh, that's very fair as well. I guess the underlying issue is, of course, different people learn differently, and we shouldn't have a one-size-fits-all solution... even though that's what we're driven to: efficient-in-terms-of-quantity systems to churn through large piles of students with minimally enforced expectations of the quality of received instruction.

> "flipped classroom model" by having kids watch (or read!) lectures on material on their own

Pretty much all classes before college I had were mixture of in-class exercises and teacher explaining things. It is not like teachers in high school would talk for an hour straight and then sent us home with homework. Plus, people asked questions or teacher prompted people to answer teachers questions. That does not really works the same way with video. In college, there were lectures and labs. In lectures they talked, in labs you solved exercises. Plus, there were office hours where you could ask.

So the whole flipped classroom model sounds like downgrade to me. Or more like someone again needed buzzword.

Anyway, afaik, my best guess is that majority of my peers would half-ass the videos watching at home. Even assigned readings had pretty bad compliance and people skimmed them at best. Unless the flipped classroom starts with graded test, there is no proof that you have done it, no consequences if you did not and then it is too tempting to skip that.

> no consequences

Wouldn't the consequences be doing poorly on future assessments, or otherwise other visible ways of not understanding the material?

The frustrating thing for me as a student was always either (a) when I understood the topic and was bored out of my mind sitting through explanations of it or (b) when I didn't understand the material, and was trying to, but the other students in the class/room who did understand and were bored were distracting or otherwise soaking up the instructor's attention.

In my imagination there's some flavor of system where students can opt-in to exactly as much hands-on instruction as they want for a particular subject... but that does assume "good faith" on part of the students, and that they're motivated to be engaged.

Probably too utopian, but still.

> Wouldn't the consequences be doing poorly on future assessments, or otherwise other visible ways of not understanding the material?

1.) The younger students are, the less they are able to think far into future. And they are motivated by that far away future even less. It is too distant for them. Even adults have hard time to be motivated by far away vision. Putting things off till last moment is pretty much normal human behavior.

2.) Not really if enough students do that. If the teachers are failing everybody, then they will have to adjust expectations. But even if they dont, this means overall less learning on students part and overall ineffective school system.

3.) The teachers tends and in fact should to explain things if you did not understood them during individual reading. The flipped classroom is not supposed to have unhelpful unapproachable teacher. Teacher do try to motivate people and help them learn. If teacher theoretically abdicated to this, then yes you have consequence. But, another consequence of having such teacher is that everyone learns less, including those who are disciplined enough to do everything.

> The frustrating thing for me as a student was always either (a) when I understood the topic and was bored out of my mind sitting through explanations of it or (b) when I didn't understand the material, and was trying to, but the other students in the class/room who did understand and were bored were distracting or otherwise soaking up the instructor's attention.

I dont see how flipped classroom would solve any of these instead of making them worst. There is still a class. The explaining part is the one where you have more of similar speed. The solving exercises is part where differences in speed show up a lot and where other students talking to teacher are preventing focus the most.

I think the model you're describing is the flipped classroom [1]. If all course materials are put online and lessons consist of requiring pupils to prepare by using the materials and whatever else they can get elsewhere, it might actually increase engagement. Probably doubly so if all of the information learned is used for projects or goals e.g by the end of this year, you will understand how a CRT works and have to provide all the requirements needed to build one with the following characteristics: X nits, Y colors, Z resolution, etc.

Similar things could be done with art, music, maths and more.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flipped_classroom

Much of this is the premise of 'unschooling', Sandra Dodd's conception of learning wherein students set the curriculum. I'm not a fan of a lot of her ... ways ... but the idea does have some attractiveness and seems to work well in at least some instances.


>>Put content online, have the students access it at their own leisure.

I second this. This will allow school lessons to better resemble learning the workplace.

Is there evidence that the way people "learn in the workplace" is better than the way they learn in college?

Is there evidence that the way people "learn in the workkplace" is always the same?

Personally I've found all my workspace learning to be far, far more effective and enjoyable than my school experiences. A lot of it is the 1-on-1 mentoring I get in my work environments, or the much more hands-on learning I can do (writing code or making changes myself). This, combined with a much less intense deadline culture (no exams, no hard assignment deadlines), work has always been a more enjoyable learning environment for me.

I realize I may be in the minority here, but I find it very hard to see how an apprentice-mentor relationship could ever be outstripped by large-scale lecture-audience dynamics in terms of quality. (Excepting, of course, a poor mentor, but that's balanced out by poor instructors anyway.)

Unless the student is self-motivated, often 'access it at their own leisure' means never. Dealing with that currently with all my students who are failing right now because they just didn't think they needed to watch the videos/do the assignments.

Students also sit and daydream in the classroom. In college, you have to physically walk to class and take notes/do exercises. Nobody will help you or make you do it.

I've seen many students who studied hard to get in to college then drop out due to poor work ethic as there's less direction.

Khan Academy (where I work) is definitely trying to help people achieve mastery[1][2], and we have people who create studies to test our efficacy and help inform future course development. We care about proving the efficacy of our approaches and constantly improving.

We've been putting in a lot of effort over the past few years specifically to help teachers help their students achieve mastery in their subjects. One piece of that has been standards alignment for our content. I don't know about the UK, but I do know that our content has been aligned with the US Common Core[3].

Since Khan is a non-profit, we're often best known for offering all of our content for free so that anyone can learn (and our mission _is_ a "free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere"), but we know that a lot of learning happens alongside teachers in classrooms and are providing tools to help with that.

[1]: https://support.khanacademy.org/hc/en-us/articles/3600307534...

[2]: https://www.khanacademy.org/khan-for-educators/k4e-us-demo/x...

[3]: https://www.khanacademy.org/commoncore

If you will, could you speak more to

> we have people who create studies to test our efficacy and help inform future course development. We care about proving the efficacy of our approaches and constantly improving."

I'm curious how that works, what the results are. For instance, is the endpoint metric how many more students pass standardized testing? If so, how does that leak into the definition of 'mastery'?

Honestly, this is not my area of expertise (I'm a software person), so I'm going to avoid speculating too much.

Standardized testing is indeed one way that we can demonstrate efficacy:


That page also includes studies that talk about course pass rates.

I don't know if our efficacy work necessarily changes "mastery" definitions, but I can imagine (but have no direct involvement with) these studies and smaller-scale studies are used by our pedagogy and course creators to improve how we approach the material.

Again, though, not my area of expertise :)

That's fair, thanks for answering, cheers :)

Khan Academy is no longer motivating for kids.

It used to work great. It was mainly math. Each lesson was marked out in a big 2D map, with arrows connecting lessons. Kids would earn meteorites, stars, comets, and other sky object badges.

I've seen this in action with multiple kids. The interest just died, almost 100%.

Without computers.

Our school board is using MS Teams, SharePoint, and a custom web application. It’s terrible. Even adults struggle with SharePoint. Let alone an 8 year old kid. Let alone kids with different abilities and challenges.

Remote learning is terrible and I doubt it will ever be good enough to replace a classroom for you kids.

What could alleviate it is a device like a reMarkable. I gave mine to my daughter. With cloud sync and some scripts I wrote she has her work sheet handouts from her teacher on the device. It’s e-ink and she can write with a pen. It’s a thousand times easier than navigating SharePoint and trying to use MS Word.

But it’s still not enough. The video calls are terrible. Being at home around her parents all day is not great for her.

Best thing has been spending time together to be honest. Playing board games. Running around outside, hikes, etc.

But without the support of a community of educators trained to help kids develop, especially kids with special needs, it is very hard.

Our kids aren't in K-12 yet, but we're already seeing how the elementary school relies on tablets and laptops. It's probably going to push one of us to run for school board.

My 90 year old grandfather could do calculus in his head. The math abilities of his generation are just absurd to me. He was educated at Carnegie Mellon, during the war he was an engineer in the SeaBees who helped rebuild China after the Japanese occupation, and he went on to be an engineer at Alcoa, where the family legend goes that he designed the largest lazy susan in the world at the time. All of this was done with a pencil and occasionally a slide rule. The power of learning to do by hand.

> Yet my recently hired collegue insists he spent more time learning from Youtube than from lectures at "proper" university.

Lots of people think they learn better from eloquent teachers (on Youtube or otherwise), and while that helps, it is far from sufficient to attain mastery of a subject. Mastery is achieved when you do; do practice problems, do timed tests, discuss concepts with those better, equal or worse than you, etc.

The value add of teachers at your school/university is that they assign problems to you at the average skill level of the class, and they give space for discussions, but most importantly change the difficulty of the course, or go over stuff in a different way if you fail to understand.

If you want to create good remote education, you will have to at least create these values as well.

> Mastery is achieved when you do

This is the important thing. I learned how to code on my own by reading/watching tutorials, then picking a project and working on it solving all the issues that come up. This works great but there's one huge catch: you need to have a TON of motivation, otherwise you'll drop it halfway because some times there's no one to guide you, to simplify things, explain another way, etc once you run into something you just don't get. By your own it can take 2 weeks solving an issue that could just take a couple of hours if there was someone to guide you more personally.

I managed to learn a lot of things this way at 18-19 year old, if I doudbt I could pull it off when I was younger than that when I had interests like football or being a rockstar.

>>Lots of people think they learn better from eloquent teachers (on Youtube or otherwise)

There's a term for this: The Dr Fox Effect.


Some subjects work better than others. Many STEM topics that are of interest to most HNers are probably among the best things you can learn online.

I'm currently a grad student in Communication Sciences and Disorders. My field involves linguistics, speech and voice science, disabilities, and more. My education in online classes is absolutely of a lower quality than it would be in person. I don't think that will ever change until humans stop communicating with their mouths, faces, and bodies. Classes whose subject matter necessarily revolves around face-to-face discussion will always be worse online.

We need to be very careful on which subjects remain mostly-online, and which subjects we push back into classrooms.

Other than that, I have wondered whether "learning pods" will become a powerful tool (rather than a temporary bandaid to the problem). From what I have seen it seems like a promising way to lower the student-instructor ratio and still get some kids spending time face-to-face without traveling to a central location every day.

I was a homeschooling parent for some years. The world would probably do well to look to what homeschoolers know about educating children at home rather than trying to replicate classroom schooling via computer connection.

I was also Director of Community Life for The TAG Project for a little while. So I joined email lists that supported homeschoolers and discussed this stuff with experts, etc.

Public school is about eight hours a day because it's "free daycare" for working parents. One article I read years ago indicated that a parent went and observed their child at school and found that the kind only really was actively learning about one to two hours a day. The rest of the time was spent taking roll call, changing classes, having lunch, etc.

At the time, I was in California and one of the ways to legally homeschool was by hiring a tutor for three hours per day. Not eight. Just three.

My very first blog began because of interest in what I was saying on homeschooling lists via email. A friend wanted to publish something I had written and it grew from there. And then I started another site because people were asking my permission to forward my emails and I was like "Oh, I will just make it a website and then they can share the links and don't need to email me."

So I've never really gotten good traction and yadda, but when I see some of the frustrations people have with the current situation, I'm like "Yeah, I should maybe do something about that..."

Only, I mean, everyone seems to want me to help them for free, because I "care," and then almost no one "cares" when I can't pay my bills. So I don't feel very excited about the idea that, "Oh, this is a thing I know a bunch about (and could potentially help people with this)."

But, really, there is a wealth of knowledge that already exists concerning how to teach kids at home. There are lots of books, email lists, etc by, for and about homeschooling and homeschooling is best done in a way that doesn't actively try to recreate public school classrooms because a lot of the methods used in public schools are used precisely because it is a means to wrangle 20 to 40 students by a teacher who will have 20 to 40 new students every year and that's not the case if they are your kids in your home.

Teaching kids at home is not remote schooling. Remote means the instructor is not in the same room as the student. Homeschooling implies the instructor is present in the room, probably in a 1:2 teacher/student ratio. Even if you are using online materials, you are actively there to guide your child through the material.

Yeah, I know. I've taken remote college classes. I'm familiar with the concept.

Have you actually homeschooled? A lot of homeschooling parents don't actively guide their kids through anything.

I used to have a page of education quotes, which included ideas like "The ability to learn is older and more common than the ability to teach" and "Education should be the lighting of a fire, not the filling of a pale."

I surveyed everything in the house -- books, games, TV shows, etc -- decided which should be counted as educational and which shouldn't and for what subjects and my kids mostly did various activities independently. I only actively worked with them when they had problems with something because they have learning disabilities.

I actually spent more time working with my kids on their homework when they were in public school plus taking them to school, attending parent-teacher conferences, etc than homeschooling took.

My oldest son tested at the senior in college level for at least one subject on a placement test at age 11. One of my rules was "If you are above grade level in the subject, you get to do whatever the heck interests you."

My kids are twice exceptional. This is probably the hardest educational profile to try to effectively educate.

> My kids are twice exceptional. This is probably the hardest educational profile to try to effectively educate.

This is probably true if you want to educate them to their maximum potential. But the wiggle room for ineffectiveness is enormous. If you have kids that are incredibly smart then you get a natural buffer. The challenge is that we sure would like everybody to be able to read and write at a high school level so being inefficient in teaching the kids who are already going to struggle with this ends up being less acceptable.

There is no question that homeschooling can be enormously valuable for kids that are smart and interested and have parents with means to participate in their education. Scaling to the rest of the population is the hard part.

It's really a lot more complicated than that. If you have someone strong in science but weak in math, their math disability can actively block their ability to learn their favorite subject.

But I really shouldn't ever bother to discuss this on HN. The only person who knew me before I joined HN knew me through homeschooling and gifted circles and never once said anything nice about me, just politely nitpicked my comments to death for eight years. No one ever said "Dude. Wow. Leave her alone." Because misogyny and double standards are alive and well.

So y'all feel free to feel like you know more than I do about the topic. My sons are grown. No one here will ever either respect me or pay me for my expertise, so your current pain points on this topic really aren't my problem.

Huh? I think you likely did a great job raising your children. Nothing in my post was intended as an attack on you (or women or mothers or homeschoolers).

In general, I find that this community is extremely receptive to nontraditional education methods. My concern was largely in what I saw as a priority mismatch when considering individual examples vs population-scale policy.

Sorry, I get an excess of grief on some topics and it's especially aggravating in this case because I feel I really ought to have a reputation as something of a subject matter expert and would if it weren't for an eight year long campaign of very polite character assassination, something which stopped after I blogged about it at some point but was never remedied in any fashion.

I appreciate that you have shared your experience as I acknowledge a personal bias against homeschooling. I have two adult friends that were home schooled and both resent their parents for it. One was home schooled because their devoutly religious parents didn’t want them socializing with non-religious students. The other because their parents didn’t believe the available school could serve their needs related to autism.

Both vocally believe they were significantly stunted academically, socially, and professionally.

Anecdotes are anecdotes, but it’s always nice to hear the other side.

If you are actually interested in looking for useful resources, gifted homeschooling resources are quite different from religious homeschooling resources.

I’m absolutely sure this is true.

I have not home-schooled my kids, however the topic for this post was remote schooling. I think those are two different topics with some overlap. Parent engagement in their child's education is probably a big factor regardless of home/public schooling. The more engagement, the better the outcome is my guess.

From an efficiency perspective, I'd agree public schools aren't efficient on time usage nor are they effective at helping anyone that are outliers - gifted or disadvantaged. Those things aren't their goal though, it is massive public education usually governed by state laws.

I think one of the top problems is with families that cannot have kids at home on their own for economic reasons like poor families that have to work outside the home for basic food and shelter.

Do you think there are practices done with effective home-schooling that can be used as a seed for larger-scale remote education?

My sons are in their thirties and when I was homeschooling them around two decades back there were already online homeschool umbrella schools. This has existed a long time, so someone has to know something better than what I'm hearing this past year from schools that suddenly and unexpectedly became remote-only overnight due to the pandemic.

Homeschooling has a really terrible reputation -- which I tend to forget because I didn't homeschool for religious reasons and those who do have something of a tendency to give the practice a bad name. So the idea that homeschoolers know anything useful gets dismissed out of hand and then a lot of homeschooling parents are the moms. Homeschoolers are often middle class families with a full-time homemaker doing the teaching and the world is really bad about acting like homemakers are all idiots who don't know nothing.

I am out of the loop on this and have baggage over how I've been treated, so I mostly just shake my head and pass on participating in such discussions on HN. I don't need the grief. But "Homeschoolers know something useful that can be borrowed upon" is exactly the point of my initial comment.

What I've read about remote K-12 schooling has been truly horrifying. I think it would be difficult to do anything worse than what I've seen described.

One would think teaching 20 5-year olds online would be an insurmountable task but it's actually been my wife's best year teaching after 6 years of in person teaching at one of the best schools in the county. The parents have been extraordinarily nice and have gone out of their way to share gratitude and one family even sent a bottle of wine.

She went from in person teaching kindergarten last year to doing the districts virtual program this year. The district has 72,000 students in K-12 and around 15% of them signed up to do all virtual this year. To give you an idea of scale, just the kindergarten teachers the virtual program has would've been more teachers than an entire traditional school would have (over 40). Most elementary schools have around 4-5 K5 teachers. The teachers still had a similar number of students as normal (around 20) and they primarily use Google Meet for live classes and Seesaw for assigning and turning in work.

Most of her students have shown improvements throughout the year so far during assessments which is promising and means teaching small children online is actually possible. She meets with the whole class at 7:45 for around 15 minutes and then does small groups from 8-10 with groups of 3-4 kids. Sometimes that goes into individual instruction as well while she gives a task to the small group and then meets 1on1 with a student individually. She meets back up with all the kids at 10 for another class lesson. From around 10:30 - 12:30 the students have PE/Art/Music with another teacher and then she does another group lesson, and then small groups, etc. until 1:30 when instruction is done for the day.

There was a learning curve at first but now most of the students are able to login to their correct classes at the right times which blows me away. The fact 5-year olds are able to more or less keep their own schedule and do assignments on their Chromebook should not be a surprise I guess but it still blows my mind.

This format has really allowed her to get way more done than she normally would during a regular school day. In person she would be at school from 7am-3pm most days plus a 20 minute commute. Having breaks during the day to do planning has been a great gift that would normally be taken up by other things in person. I can also get into the curriculum and how that worked going from 0 but this is already getting long. Happy to answer any questions if there are any.

>teachers the virtual program has would've been more teachers than an entire traditional school would have ... She meets with the whole class at 7:45 for around 15 minutes and then does small groups from 8-10 with groups of 3-4 kids ... then meets 1on1

That sounds close to an ideal learning situation. Small-group individual attention (as close to tutoring as possible) allows teachers to constantly evaluate who's getting it/needs help, and to tailor the rate of presentation for best results. Congratulations, and I hope you're able to share that news of success, and the details, widely.

That's great to hear but I'm guessing your wife's school is located in an upper class neighborhood where there's plenty of room and time for homeschooling, at least one member of the household can take care of the kids at any time, and in general education problems are no issue. The reality for not-so-well-doing families is a very different one, starting from there being no quiet place in the apartment, let alone for multiple kids at the same time, no equipment for home schooling, and parents being busy with work and not able to take care or help. These problems being amplified by the pandemic is tragic, to say the least, for a whole generation. It's also extremely frustrating for those who've fought for inclusion and against social determination in elementary schools for all their professional life. This problem will definitely come back biting society.

There's no lack of schooling software. In fact, preparing high quality digital materials for education in a "literal" style such that attendees could comprehend and change those themselves has been a major use case for 1990s (HyTime and SGML) media authoring systems, with high profile figures (TechnoTeacher/Dr Macro) being editors or sitting on the board of said standards. But the truth is that as long as public schooling doesn't get properly funded to pay many more teachers, there's no chance to maintain education standards. Right now, in my country teachers are expected (or at least were expected in the latter half of last year) to be present in school and organize home schooling at the same time, all the while being exposed to Covid, which can't possibly work. The priority of the school administration/government seems to be to avoid giving any legal reason for a right to repeat years or appeal final exams because that would break HR and financial means.

> That's great to hear but I'm guessing your wife's school is located in an upper class neighborhood where there's plenty of room and time for homeschooling

Nope. She has a good number of students from low income families and the school where most of her kids came from before virtual is a Title 1 school. All the students doing the virtual program get a Chromebook and access to an internet connection (meaning they worked with Spectrum to get internet to families who didn't have it or they get a wifi hotspot or they have community locations with wifi access). Some of these students are at a daycare, with family, etc. during the day while the parents work.

Now there are definitely inequalities in the school system don't get me wrong but for my wife at least she cares deeply about that subject and tries her best to make sure each student has everything they need to succeed.

There was a learning curve at first but now most of the students are able to login to their correct classes at the right times which blows me away. The fact 5-year olds are able to more or less keep their own schedule and do assignments on their Chromebook should not be a surprise I guess but it still blows my mind.

I don't want to doubt you, but... really? My experience of 5-year-olds is they don't have any meaningful concept of time at all; surely the parents must be plonking them in front of the computers at the right time and nagging them to complete their assignments, right?

It sounds like your wife is doing a fantastic job!

From what I've gathered it's all about routine. There was definitely a lot of adult help earlier in the year for the first couple weeks but once they got into a routine the kids now are mostly doing things on their own. Their grown up is usually nearby if needed as well. She's even told me some stories about kids being clever and trying to pretend there are issues so they can watch TV (the only problem being while they turned video off they didn't mute the microphone so she could hear cartoons in the background).

> Yet my recently hired collegue insists he spent more time learning from Youtube than from lectures at "proper" university.

Neither of these are likely to be ideal ways of learning.

From what I recall, research shows that people often believe they have learned a lot by watching a video, but when tested they are often unable to identify the key ideas they were being taught.

Students ideally need personal feedback and a direction to focus on. To be able to ask questions and interact with what they don't yet fully understand. To be listened to and understood.

Remote classrooms can be organised to match what happens in an effective classroom (here simplified): the teacher introduces the key learning goals and to set out some relevant tasks with examples, then walks around the classroom giving their time to students 1-1 while the other students work independently on their tasks (likely in a way that allows them to discuss their understanding with each other, with access to reference materials including the internet), and brings the class together as necessary and at the end of the session.

Being sat together in a Zoom call for an hour (or ultimately many hours a day) is not accurately reflecting what is really happening in a good classroom, except in the presentee-ism aspect.

MOOCs and, in general, sources of pure content are generally not personalised enough to engage most people beyond the first lecture. They can't predict what a student will need support with, and don't proactively act on this - whereas schoolteachers can and do. CS50x is an extremely high quality MOOC and only ~2% of registered students are destined to ever complete the semester's worth of work.

Reaching mastery best will involve using the resources we have in human teachers: teachers to guide learning.

My children are 16, 15, 14. They are all currently homeschooling in UK lockdown number 3.

All of their lessons are delivered via video (Google Classrooms). The quality of learning seems low, they seem unengaged and only respond to teacher when absolutely forced to. As a parent all I really do is IT support and discourage distraction (put your phone down etc).

In UK lockdown 1 in March there was no video learning. Tasks were emailed the day before. As a family we sat together round the kitchen table worked together. Questions they didn't understand were explained (my wife is a teacher) or googled. They put in about 4hrs each day and the learning experience seemed so much better, even though it took more effort from us as parents.

I don't really have any answers other than online learning for teenagers doesn't replace good teacher lead distraction free instruction in the classroom.

> They put in about 4hrs each day and the learning experience seemed so much better, even though it took more effort from us as parents.

This describes typical homeschooling in the US before the lockdown. Except in the case of actual homeschooling, you get to pick the curriculum that's appropriate for your children.

Most public schooling is mindless busy work. Often it's poorly designed and confusing. It doesn't need to be this way. Once a child is able to read and write, they should be able to comprehend most instructions with little supervision.

I've only been at this for six months now, but what seems to be working for two of my children is to combine parent-student-paired activity (reading/watching course material) and practice exercises (usually solo but sometimes with parent if it is a new subject).

I feel like the paired activity is basically following the apprenticeship model, as I focus on showing them how to get through the material quickly and how to look up supplemental information or follow interesting tangents to keep it interesting.

The practice exercises then are more relaxing for them as they can just tune out to a certain extent and work through problems on their own.

One thing that is funny is that I am absolutely learning as well as we do this. About half of the material we have covered before I don't remember ever learning in high school, and the rest is a good refresher.

> The quality of learning seems low, they seem unengaged and only respond to teacher when absolutely forced to.

It seems like they have now managed to accurately replicate the average UK classroom, I'm sorry to say.

The open university in the UK was founded in 1969 and has been offering full distance learning degrees ever since in large numbers of subjects. It uses a mix of professionally produced video content (so usually not just a video of a lecturer standing in front of a blackboard), textbooks, in person or remote small group seminars (you used to phone in, now online video chat), forums, chat groups, personal support by email or post (in case you're in prison or living really remotely) and online libraries / inter library loans and occasional residential weekends / weeks.

Mastery is tested in the usual ways, essays, projects and tests, but also "in class" contributions during seminars, which is a good way of motivating people to actually attend and ask questions.

It works really well but it's taken fifty years of practice, experimentation and investment to get there and it involves a lot of contact between tutors and students and as a student you need to be more motivated than attending a bricks and mortar university (I've done both).

The fact of the matter is that most online learning created over the last year is pretty terrible because it's been created on the hoof by teachers with no experience of delivering learning in this way so they've mostly tried to reproduce the classroom but online, which doesn't work.

Most existing online material out there is intended to be supplemental to traditional bricks and mortar learning or used in a "flipped" classroom like Khan Academy where there is still pupil teacher contact, rather than replace it, or is aimed at professional / personal development rather than teaching academic subjects or the core curriculum.

Honestly if you want to improve your kids learning and can afford one get them a tutor who will work with them one to one or in small groups and can identify what the gaps in their knowledge are and ensure they are keeping pace of where they should be curriculum wise so when they do go back to school they won't be behind their peers. Don't expect a magic tech bullet.

It's worth saying that the OU model partly works because of an economy of scale (a small module for the OU probably has a couple of hundred students, many have thousands).

A huge amount of work is put into making the modules high quality. Modules are written by teams not individuals and there is a specific process with reviewing etc involved which includes modules going through 'developmental testing' where they basically pilot the whole module with students (who I believe do the module for free) before releasing it properly. Having worked at traditional universities, the different in effort involved is orders of magnitude.

The modules generally use the 'flipped classroom' model to some extent. Students have a tutor who supports them and there are tutorials (all online at the moment obviously) and although there is teaching in tutorials, they is an expectation that they support the course content - perhaps explaining key ideas or addressing common misconceptions - rather than being the central means of delivering course content.

Also worth mentioning that the OU has invested hugely over the years into research into what works and doesn't work in terms of remote education and compared with traditional universities where I have worked, teaching is more valued.

> Yet my recently hired collegue insists he spent more time learning from Youtube than from lectures at "proper" university.

There's a world of difference between learning from your own initiative vs being given a curriculum.

If you're already in a field like coding, online stuff is absolutely the best way to find things out, because you already have structure. Once you have that, it's really only motivation how many topics you end up learning about.

For kids, especially little ones, they don't know where what they're doing fits in. They're literally being told they need to learn the sounds for these shapes, learn how to count, and so on. They have no perspective on it for a good long while.

Sorry, I don't have an answer but this is an interesting problem. For one, kids haven't been taught to teach themselves - and most kids aren't interested in learning anyways because they don't see any incentive.

Schooling has traditionally used social pressure and a present authority figure to ensure students actually participate. Online, both of those are basically gone.

Technically, there's actually potential benefit to guiding a student into becoming self-reliant in terms of schooling (and so, obviously, in work & life). Also, we're all aware that there are countless great resources for learning online. The crux of the problem is really how to incentivize it.

I think the solution involves:

1) Getting a curriculum (solved by the school)

2) Finding good resources for learning it (takes some digging)

3) Incentivizing the learning

4) Keeping track (some kind of online tool like Notion maybe?)

Maybe a good incentive is to simply have suitable rewards for completing tasks and getting good grades. Pair that with embellishments to the curriculum - like say, you get to learn some extra stuff by watching Bill Nye - and I think you can get a kid to want to learn.

I learned Calculus entirely online and aced my exam, but that was after failing it and becoming desperate to move on. Negative incentive clearly worked for me, but I don't recommend it.

3 is the key step. It's the issue the school I work at has seen. Most of our students don't see any reason to learn and so they do none of the activities, even when they know their grade depends on it. Unless you can fix that problem, which is a cultural problem, then remote education can never replace in-person education. In-person education works around it as the teacher is there to force them to be accountable and at least attempt to learn.

As someone who enjoys remote work as a profession, I think this is generally a bad idea long term, at least across the board.

Remote learning should absolutely be a thing for children who learn better in that environment - I likely would have benefited from it back in elementary and junior high schools because there wouldn't be the distraction of being surrounded by bullies and demi-criminals.

However, I think it's delusional to think that Zoom and so forth can be a sufficient replacement for the social aspect of being at a physical school. Parents seem to forget that they aren't a surrogate for the teachers, friends, and boy/girl-friends their children would otherwise be interacting with at school. It's hugely valuable, nearly as much as the education itself. I'm saying this as someone who is a kind of recluse; it would have been bad for me to never be challenged socially while growing up.

My conclusion is that things like Khan Academy are already good enough, and the real question should be how such a system could be adapted to a standardized testing structure(or perhaps the other way around). What would be ideal is if schools can use something like Khan Academy so that there can be seamless transitions between home schooling and physical schooling, as well as making the concept of forgetting one's homework obsolete.

The reason that we as a society are struggling with remote learning right now is because the people in control have no idea what they're doing. They're having to play catch up to the rest of the world, at least in a digital sense. It's not that we don't already have tools ready to go. It's a failure to adapt. We had well over a decade to evolve education to the digital frontier and we were slow to the draw.

I see a lot of these conversations recently (big surprise!) and one aspect that really doesn't seem to come up is that content only gets you so far.

There has been quality content "out there" for decades. In-arguably there is more content recently, and it is somewhat more discoverable. But it has always been true that truly effective self directed learners exist but have been thin on the ground.

To abuse a quote from good will hunting (IIRC) - you could have got that education for $3 in library late fees. Why don't more people do this? I think roughly the same problem is at work with MOOC and remote learning. Clearly some few people can get a lot out of it; clearly a lot don't.

I've taught inside and outside of universities; I suspect we still have a pretty poor understanding of what parts are working and why.

Some of the remote learning approaches I see now seem a bit of cargo-culting the existing system and then arguing about whether or not it is working.

At one end of the scale, the work set on monday this week for my kids (elementary school age) was done in 50 minutes for one, and 30 minutes for the other.

On the other hand other parents are saying there is too much work to do.

My wife is a teacher in a bad school, the worst kids this year are over 2 years behind where they should be.

Perhaps the problem is that people learn and work at different rates, and homeshcooling is just exposing this.

On the tertiary education issue, I've always found that an in person lecture, delivered at a fixed rate (can't speed up or slow down), with no ability to pause or rewind, to be the absolute worst way to deliver 'education'.

For a given lecture for university, get a charismatic person (Bill Nye, Brian Cox, David Attenborough, that sort of person - and ideally budget) who really knows their stuff to deliver the material. This saves bored lecturers from repeating the same old thing and gives more time for one-to-one questions, enthuses people from the presentation style, allows rewatching it, pausing it, playing it at a faster speed or a slower speed, etc.

> At one end of the scale, the work set on monday this week for my kids (elementary school age) was done in 50 minutes for one, and 30 minutes for the other.

> On the other hand other parents are saying there is too much work to do.

High School CS teacher here. I definitely relate to this. Even when we were in person, I had students who could finish a project in 20 minutes, and others who would take two or three class periods.

Working remotely seems to exacerbate this difference. The students finishing in 20 mins still finish in 20 minutes, but the ones who took days before are often the same students who never reach out for help, and in many occasions don't even attend virtual meetings.

Now I definitely have room for improvement as far as keeping on students and parents to get things done, but it's also just a lot harder to hold someone responsible for their work when you aren't looking over their shoulder every day.

Like any new solution, you need to understand the full problem. Creating an educational system that works for the 80% isn't good enough. You need to handle special education, special needs. The school system provides free meals to lower income children. It is also the reason that struggling single parents can find time to work... while their kids are in school.

Any solution that only solves education, without also solving the societal gaps the public system fulfills is a non-starter.

All children are different and all children learn differently. Schools have a mandate to educate all children. Teachers instinctively make small (or large) changes to work will the children in their classes. Good teachers are good at this, not so good teachers are not so good at it. But at least it is happening.

In observing online educational things for my kids, I have noticed that this doesn’t happen at all. We supplement with multiple services, and each of my kids gets something different out of each of them. No single service would work for even one of my kids, let alone all of them.

If you want a new remote education system, you have to have one that is flexible and adjusts to each student. Not the other way around. I don’t see anyone willing to do that. It’s hard.

> Yet my recently hired collegue insists he spent more time learning from Youtube than from lectures at "proper" university.

Unless you go to an elite university like Stanford or MIT (whose lectures actually are among those on YouTube), an ordinary university lectures usually are garbage (in both how deep and how easy to understand they are) compared to what is available on YouTube. It is common (among people I knew) to waste time on the uni lectures (because they won't let you to attend the exams otherwise) learning nothing, then watch some YouTube, get it quickly and go pass the exam.

University degrees are totally doable without going to lectures, or attending any classrooms at all. People of univeristy age should be able to self-learn, and I see no difference to a video of a lecturer vs sitting in a hall. As long as questions can be emailed to them.

Schools on the other hand...plenty of students are unable to learn on their own. "Self learning" is a skill, that even at the ago of 40 I'm still trying to master. (Anki seems to be the key here!)

> University degrees are totally doable without going to lectures, or attending any classrooms at all.

Nevertheless universities require you to attend about 90% or fuck off.

In my opinion examination/certification should be done by an independent institution and require no prerequisites. So people could get the knowledge from anywhere they prefer (YouTube, books, private educators, paid or free lectures, commercial companies, experience) at any pace they feel comfortable then just come to pass a standardized exam and get a diploma.

I think it depends on what you want _out_ of the system. For many, they want people with "ready job skills", which can be a challenge to give learners (budgets, always moving targets, etc). If you want to build good theoretical understanding and critical thinking, that requires the learners to work a lot, and is harder to quantify and test, but allows you to keep the material consistent over a long period. Also, different subjects can lend themselves better (or worse) to a distance learning situation. The OP mentions kids moving at different paces -- but that happens in person too -- they just don't notice/see it.

I think one issue is the idea that you can take a few pieces of quality "content", thread through them and have a meaningful course. Mastery is a great thing to talk about -- what is it exactly? For most, it's doing well enough to get a certain mark on a test. But I'd argue what you want is to ensure that learners use concepts they have mastered in a demonstrative way -- but again, this is harder and will cost more. It would be great if education was concerned about deeper understanding, but right now the focus seems to be "will this be on the test".

As an early elementary school teacher, I see these cracks from the other side too. Current tools for synchronous learning also exact a "tax" on educators, as even the most technologically proficient teacher must dedicate some attention to managing the platform. This is exacerbated by the fact that many tools we are using (Zoom, Google Meet, MS Teams) are not made for education or are not well adapted to remote and hybrid teaching, particularly for young children and their teachers (Google Classroom, Seesaw). I know educators are working hard to meet the needs of their students, but I know many feel we're not doing our best teaching right now because of these limitations of that technology and, of course, the stress of the pandemic and US political situation. To be honest, I have seen so many teachers work flexibly to adapt to teaching in this world but have not seen the same level of innovation from edtech companies, particularly among larger vendors, who have the most resources and the most responsibility to make change for our students. (Google Classroom, I'm looking at you.)

If there is one thing that the pandemic should have taught us, it is that remote work and remote schooling are, in most cases, not adequate replacements for in-person. There is no doubt in my mind that we could do better, and we should, but also no doubt in my mind that there are fundamental limits on how well remote can ever get.

Also, the longer you are "remote only" (as opposed to a temporary remote session because of snowstorm or whatever), the worse the remote option becomes. Lots of things happen in person that help to strengthen teacher-student understanding, and they gradually atrophy the longer you are remote.

Plus, some of what happens at a school is education in dealing with your peers, which is even more deficient in remote mode.

That's three reasons that remote learning, while a valuable addition, is not a replacement for in person schooling, and I am way more convinced of that now than I was before the pandemic.

In my university days, a few of the professors would record classes on VHS tapes that were made available at the library. I would attend class, but occasionally I would go to the library to watch the videos for review. I think we have much more opportunity now to access much more content.

I think you need good subject matter experts to team up with a tech person to create curated material. You also need some way to ask questions if you get stuck on something.

I gave it a shot at teaching a few lessons on how to program with Scratch to grades 1-5. I setup 3 simple lessons ( see my profile ) and provided a way for kids to ask questions via a simple form.

The last thing you need is time with the kids in my opinion, kids will show interest in something if you are taking part in it.

I don't think the education system can be completely remote. If the society does decide to move to this system, then it will be a mix of remote and local studies. I have mentioned this somewhere else on this platform that the model of Open University is what is both achievable and sustainable. I have some experience working with Open University of the state of Maharashtra(MOU) in India. Their model of remote education has been working for decades now. The way the MOU works is by setting all the policies, courses(and content), syllabus, exams etc but delegates the delivery to its local chapters and/or franchisees. Students can visit the local chapter/franchisee for meeting with local instructors and or other students, if required or if they want.

I'm a teacher. Yes, kids learn a huge amount from YT and suchlike but the key to that is that their learning is driven by their own interests. If a kid is genuinely bored by maths, they are not going to learn more by watching videos.

If you don't care about credentials, then it is largely already here. I've been learning javascript online from the worlds best teachers.

Though this doesn't work if you're learning microbiology and need access to a $1M laboratory.

I think trying to fit a single solution to the entire range of schooling is a bad idea.

In the earlier years of your life, a big part of schooling is “learning how to learn” whether implicitly or explicitly. By the time you get to university you have a good set of skills in terms of taking notes, referencing literature, practicing problems such that more time is spent learning the material rather than developing those meta-learning skills. I think that might explain the difference between your experience and your colleagues’.

I haven’t thought too much about the pre-k to grade school level, but at the university level it seems like universities are making an incredibly lackluster attempt at remote learning. They seem to have just taken the lecture aspect of university, thrown it into a zoom meeting, and called it a day. For the tuition that students are paying in the US (10-50k per year) there is so much room to provide value in alternative ways. I understand a large portion of those fees go towards paying faculty salaries but surely without having to run facilities they can invest that money in providing more value in remote learning. Things such as VR lectures/labs, improving the social aspect of remote university, more smaller group learning with more remote TAs, etc. There is so much opportunity here but there seems to be very low effort on the university side, probably due to massive sunk costs on the in-person learning side.

In addition to "learning how to learn", esp early schooling offers a lot of social benefits, plus (depending on country etc) food and time away from home, which are important to a lot of kids (unfortunately).

I moved my family out of California to avoid remote education. I don't have confidence that 2nd grade can be effectively taught remotely.

I think that the socialization aspect is as important as the education aspect.

Remote education needs to be a supplement to in-person education. The lack of interaction with other students, especially for kids in elementary or secondary school is becoming very harmful for their overall development.

For adults, online education should be thought of as a supplement to either their work-learning or their life-learning. The former to help advance their pursuit of skills, the second to help advance their pursuit of enjoyment of life.

The needs for online education for all these realms are very different and there is no one size fits all.

Just a historical note, from 1964, a book by Buckminster Fuller: Education Automation: Freeing the scholar to return to his studies

Even back then we had the technology and opportunity to do this. The gist: get the best (most captivating) teachers (perhaps coached by the best researchers) and record them / broadcast them to students.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Education-Automation-Freeing-scholar-...

UK reader here. We're in an odd situation where what passes for the Government has been trying to implement a "one laptop per child" initiative but has failed spectacularly. We've even had BBC regional TV news asking viewers to donate old/obsolete/unwanted devices and in a few cases there has been a moderate response. Add to that the lack of broadband in low socio-economic households and many rural areas, and you can see that this is a non-starter.

However, I could say with a fair degree of accuracy that over 90% of UK households have at least 1 TV (see https://www.barb.co.uk/trendspotting/tracker-number-tvs/ ) and many of the poorest families seem to be able to run an Internet-capable Smartphone, so this is where it gets interesting. Oh, and there are numerous public (pay to use) British Telecom Wifi access points in many streets, embedded in termination boxes.

If the Government could somehow furnish a small, cheap computing device with no resale value that could optionally use a TV screen for display and a Smartphone as a hotspot, or do a deal with British Telecom to connect to already-available WiFi access points, they could make a significant inroad into getting kids online and learning again. All it needs is some thinking, planning and timely implementation (and this is why the Government is certain to fail).

For most parts, we can't. At least not for grade school, less of a problem for college.

In France, they initially started to close schools, but for the second wave lockdown, they didn't. And now that cases are on the rise again and a third lockdown is being considered, the authorities are pretty clear: schools are the last thing that they will consider closing.

At school, kids are really taking the rules seriously, much more than adults: masks, hands washing, etc... no problem. Social distancing is a bit trickier but still, they do their best to do as they are told. One reason they are so docile: they really don't want another lockdown with school closure!

School is not just about learning stuff. It is a social hub for kids. Most of us here are probably lucky enough to have a good family, but for some, it is the only place where people actually care about them. It also teaches kids to be good citizens, respect authority, etc..., which is most important when parents don't do it.

That's not really answering the question, but my recommendation would be: try to get your kids to school for real, taking as many precautions as necessary. Kids are low risk for covid, are not that good spreaders and they won't get their lockdown time back. I think that small risk is worth it.

Possible arrangement for university-level education: have the accrediting organizations administer exams for course credits and award degrees instead of individual universities.

The goal would be to open up choices. People could self-study, his tutors, or attend university. Even mix them up. It'd be like transfer credits. I could see a cottage industry of tutors and specialized labs, because the accrediting organizations' standard exams let them honestly say, "We can help you with part of your degree." Internships wouldn't have to be coordinated with universities; good employers would assign enough work relevant to the exams.

Universities would still be a useful service: pay the tuition and get access to a bunch of professors (bonus if they take on student research assistants), other students, labs, research material, the "university experience", and (let's be honest) prestige. Universities could even provide venues for exams, like with the GRE (which is a standard exam administered by a central body).

Another real-world example is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Anyone can register. I self-studied and took the N5 (easiest) exam in 2019. After that, I realized I need some help to keep progressing, so I've signed up for some paid online education services. When the pandemic passes, I'll look into getting a tutor. If local universities offered Japanese courses, I'd gladly pay to sit in.

There's two completely different problems.

1. Someone who is motivated, and who has the talent and/or background to be able to grasp the material. How do we prove that they learned it? How do we prove it in a way that a credential-driven society will accept? (Especially, how do we do it for a fully online college degree?)

2. Someone who is not motivated, or who does not have the tools to grasp the material. How do we detect that they're floundering or giving up? How do we keep them from falling through the cracks?

Those are two completely different problems. I could see solving the first one with testing - you pass the test, you pass the class. The problem is getting society to accept the credential as meaning the same as an in-person class or degree. Western Governors University uses this approach; I don't know whether or not the outside world views their degrees as "real" degrees.

To my way of thinking, the second problem is harder. You can't solve it with technology. You need human intervention, preferably from humans that the student has a connection to, and that are talented enough in teaching to know how to help. I have no clue how to handle that remotely. If the parents aren't those people, then... what?

All of the challenges with the US K-16 system are political, cultural, or socioeconomic. The choice of technology —whether whiteboard and desks or video lectures— is more likely to amplify those challenges than anything else imho.

Speaking from my professional vantage point on K-12 (school model design and implementation, edtech, school systems leadership development), “content” has a long way to go. If not in terms of design, scope and sequence, then in discovery and management (e.g. find what works for me and transfer back to discourse of assessment, final project, job interview, etc.).

It goes hand and hand with “mastery”. Presumably there is enough content to match any student’s learning style, but the system itself biases toward standardization, not personalization. And the standard goals and outcomes drive the cultural, political and socioeconomic conversation in education reform... it’s a viciously swinging pendulum.

Then there are the classroom teachers and school staff who often best understand students’ learning needs, and bend the rules in-person, in real-time to accommodate. I’m not sure how that looks in a new remote system, but it is the most overlooked and important part of the current system imho.

We can't. Probably because learning outcomes isn't the point of school. The point of school is to teach worldly skills. To talk to other people. To interact and to stand out in a world full of other equally smart individuals. If learning was the only point of school, we would have moved to online education long ago. I think kids should still go to school and then get absorbed in jobs and then learn on the job.

By breaking down the old system. When an innovative competitor enters the field and grabs a large amount of "market share" by meeting the demands of the users (students, parents, etc..) then the education system will crumble.

Problem is - the education system is no longer about learning. It's about institutional recognition. Any innovation for learning will be dismissed unless it caters to institutional recognition.

We don't, at least not with general-purpose computers. There are too many distractions. It's a disaster.

Students need to access school web sites which include links to book publishers and YouTube. There might be math videos on YouTube, but everything else is far more interesting. Video games get to be an enormous problem. Just having web access is enough to support a game addiction. Even something like Khan Academy or Scratch becomes a gaming platform, because programming is available and people have written games there.

Right now I'm relying on time-intensive and error-prone supervision. The computer is unlocked, observed while in use, and then locked. It's miserable for everybody. If the parent looks away, the gaming begins. Forgetting to lock the computer means that it will get used all night long, leaving the kid sleepy for the next day.

For the technical subjects, I haven't managed find a program more comprehensive as brilliant.org. It covers a great deal of the technical subjects to perhaps most of the undergraduate level of understanding.

I then supplement a course like brilliant, with udemy courses, guided project courses and then finally in to unguided personal projects. I can pass my CS exams, work full time, and not have to ever attend a lecture.

I only really decided to go to university to meet cool people and go to parties. There was a legitimate decision whether it was really worth it. Thankfully I live in a country where education is essentially affordable for a student, so I didn't stand to lose much.

My university has practically one of the biggest, most comprehensive libraries in the world. However, being an undergraduate, they don't actually allow me to borrow most of them, but a small sliver of 'undergraduate appropriate' books. But it's still extremely nice to be able to grab any book, free of charge and do some research. -> This is one of the main reasons I want to hang around in university.

Access to workshops, and labs is nearly always restricted to the people in the appropriate subjects. So I cant actually build anything physical, unless I belong to some mechanical engineering course. Figuring out a way to get around that would also be very nice for the future education system.

The tutor system in Oxford, Cambridge if it could be scaled, would be the final nail in the coffin for the traditional university. If I could get access to a person who is more knowledgable than me in a subject to help me understand what I don't know and give me pointers on what I probably need to learn would save me countless hours of just trying to know what I don't know.

Finding a local makerspace might in part allow you to bypass the need to access facilities at Uni for physical construction?

This recent study shows that transmission in primary education institutions is extremely low. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/ea...

Different people have different modes of learning, so the key is to listen to the user and ask questions in order to surface the modes they need.

I grew up self-teaching myself because teachers refused to try new ways to teach me. If they tried to help me out, it would not help at all, because they didn't know how to use different perspectives or modes. I suggested several times that I would be more engaged if I could find an interesting way to engage with the material. I liked history, and problem solving. But much of the time, the only method the teachers would use was rote memorization or some formula which didn't make sense. There wasn't context or a story, just abstract concepts, and no visual clues, hierarchies, etc.

If somebody had listened to me and basically captured my user story and feedback, perhaps they could have found similar situations and developed a couple different structures for organizing and presenting the material. Or maybe I'm just weird.

>Different people have different modes of learning

The empirical evidence rejects that idea.

So why do I learn things better in a different way than most other people?

You can sit me down at a handful of basic math problems and it will take me literally 3 hours to work through them, and I'll still screw them up. Or you can give me a block of wood, a hand saw, a ruler, square, and I can teach myself some trig in a few hours.

Literally everyone finds concrete reasoning (block of wood) more intuitive than abstract reasoning. Some people have a relative (often cultivated) skill for abstract reasoning, but they improve that skill in very much the same way you do.

I invite you to read some peer-reviewed literature on the subject. If you prefer a non-peer reviewed book by an accomplished researcher, I would recommend Stanislas Dehaene’s “How we Learn”.

In any case: there is no evidence for “learning styles”.

Remote has created much wider opportunities for premium enrichment of kids curriculum, and what I can reasonably predict is further polarization of outcomes. Poor kids who work will still outperform most lazy rich kids, and with incredible resources to leverage (3blue1brown, betterexplained, etc come to mind), but the ones who fall below a threshold will form a permanent, itinerant underclass.

Like most things, there is too much in every discipline for any one person to know, so the people who prevail are the ones who have the tools to adapt quickly and leverage others. Oddly, this is not a function of work either, but of attitude to work, and identity.

The question is, educate kids to become, what, administrators and tourists? Even with public education, the skills among kids are Pareto distributed, and there is a great deal of controversy of what "good," means.

The homeschooling industry existed before COVID-19. I’d start by looking at what they do and pull the parts that you like. Iterate from there.

Local teachers are somewhat overrated because you’re limited to what talent/style is available within a small radius of where you live.

Khan Academy, for instance, was far better than what my public high school offered. Now there’s a wide array of educational resources on YouTube to supplement a curriculum. Even a single video can drive home a point that will be internalized for life. I can’t really say that about my public education.

Lastly, parent-lead homeschooling is better because you don’t have to worry about teachers sharing their political opinions as “facts”. This certainly happened to me and many of my colleagues growing up.

Unfortunately I think good remote learning classes are only possible with a lot of resources invested in production. Think interactive visualizations, animations, excellent audio & video quality, etc. Almost no teachers have the skills necessary to create things in the same ballpark as 3blue1brown, for example - and that needs to be table stakes. Sticking a teacher in front of a laptop connected to a zoom meeting is a recipe for failure. This also requires money invested in student setups. Every student should have access to a good quality screen, headphones, microphone, webcam, and digitizer for freeform diagram input. Anything less than this will be strictly inferior to in-person teaching, no matter what.

Its an interesting question.

My kids cant wait to finish their school day (remote) and jump on to Roblox, Playstation, etc

I'm no programmer, but surely there is scope to gamify parts of the curriculum.. I'm trying to imagine some hack'n'slash dungeon crawler with lessons included by stealth.

I teach CS in college. I've had kids. My daughter teaches in high school. And I'd like to say that I find it very shortsighted to think that remote learning for 6-year olds is even remotely comparable to remote learning for 15 year olds or 21 year olds.

They're very different age groups and please recognize that they require different approaches both to learning in general as learning online.

There no way you can discuss online learning in a generalized way across all age groups.

I'd look into more project based "classes" instead of a rigidly taught curriculum. As more of a guided process than explicit steps, with the student getting to pick the direction they'll go in.

That's what taught me the most. It's a shame there aren't more opportunities like that in classes in general. Could be a question of teacher hours available, or because we can't effectively measure progress between wildly different projects. Still, I think it's more in-line with the way a workplace functions now.

I’m in Vancouver. We haven’t closed our schools at this point so my perspective is of how we move forward and not fixing what’s broken with those locked down today. I’m more thinking at the grade school level.

My kids have started exploring outschool.com. I’m impressed with what I see. They can follow paths that interest them at their own pace with interactions in small groups with teachers. Combine this with regular school and the quality YouTube content and I think all the pieces exist. Maybe the final piece is a syllabus as a service?

Is there somewhere where I can get remote tutoring? Like have problem get help 1:1 or 1:4 from a tutor or instructor? That was always my biggest hurdle with online or book learning. If you didn't understand a concept or problem there were no real resources to ask. Writing out a problem in an online forum still might not be enough the personal discussion and interaction helps so much.

This question may be a tad premature. We are at the very beginning of a potential education revolution. What we are waiting for is the next 'Google'. This is an app/platform/system which will be so intuitive and accessible over remote tech that it will instantly change the way we look at teaching long term. It will come. The big unknown is...when?

For one thing, the requirements for effective teaching is going to be vastly different between a captive audience of 5-10 years olds that effectively need to be disciplined and educated and grown ass adults who seek out the content on their own.

I think remote learning could be done far better for older teens and adults. The remote experience is always going to be subpar for young children.

I work in this area and the answer to some of your questions are really already available. Rubrics/CASE/CLR/Learning Outcomes etc are known within the teaching community. Their implementation in the digital space is where you are seeing the gap. A traditional classroom environment doesn't always translate into a digital one for the reasons you specify, but thats not the only way to do it.

There must be resources for homeschoolers that already solve a lot of this right? Maybe someone on HN has experience with that? I know in the past there were correspondence courses for students whose parents were not in one place for a long time (diplomats, people sailing around the world, etc.) I'm sure something like that still exists as well.

I think at least early education is better done in person. The classroom experience for little ones is about much more than traditional skills like reading, writing, math, etc. This is where they learn to work with others, learn the social skill that they need to succeed in the future. Little ones need their peers as much as education.

I think there are two components of school life: socializing and education. While remote socializing is hard to imagine, I don't believe you can beat high quality videos on youtube (like 3blue1brown) to understand most of the concepts. You also have to keep in mind that level of education in most of the countries in the world is quite low.

Two questions:

1. What are the educational invariants? I would worry that someone trying to disrupt the education space would try too many new things, and lose the basics along the way, so I’d want to know what the fixed behaviors needs to be.

2. How did gamification go? It was very popular there for a second, but nobody is reaching for it on the shelf now. Why is that?

Unschooling. That's an actual term/movement you can Google.

You pointed out there are great, interactive lessons online, but the problem is the syllabus. Forget the syllabus. Shouldn't the goal be learning rather than conformity?

Then the problem to solve is not schooling but childcare.


My wife's school is on a 2-week remote learning due to COVID flair ups. Yesterday afternoon, while teachers were at the building, 3 youth (caught on camera thankfully) went to my wife's school and physically cut the internet cabling going into the building, it was unable to be repaired by today. The servers hosting their various learning software are inside the building(s) at the middle and high school, today they had to use a waiver and completely cancel school since teachers can't actually assign work and the like.


The cloud will not help you.

If your threat model include adversaries willing to perpetrate a physical DoS attack on your infrastructure, you need physical security. I.e. if the students had no internet cables to cut, they could just as easily have cut the power. Or set fire to the building.

If you have physical assets threatened by physical attacks, you need physical security.

>The cloud will not help you.

If the software was installed on a remote server, the children would have had no way of knowing how to gain access to it to cut the internet to an entire data center. Instead they simply looked at the side of the school building. So, you're mistaken at best?

> I.e. if the students had no internet cables to cut, they could just as easily have cut the power. Or set fire to the building.

So they're going to drive to the home of every teacher and cut their power or set their homes on fire? If the software was on a server not hosted at the actual school building, my wife could have been teaching today. From home. Most people do have the internet at home you know, however their only software that isn't hosted inside the school building is zoom.

If they have a snow day because the buses can't safely get student to school, they could remote work at home, even if the power went out at the school building as it's highly unlikely every teacher would be affected by a limited power outage.


>you need physical security.

They do have physical security, but unless you're planning on automated defense turrets laying waste to children that get too close to an exterior wall, or enough humans to constantly monitor every last inch of the property via live camera feeds...

Again, hosting all of the software in the cloud, instead of on a server inside the school building, is a far cheaper solution.

A company providing this sort of hosted software is in a far better position to provide physical security, DDoS protection, etc if they're hosting the software for many schools instead of expecting thousands of schools to be able to do this on their own on a fairly limited budget.,

similarly ive been wondering how we fix online dating so it can stay online permanently. im in a serious (virtually sexual) relationship, but so far we have not been able to virtually conceive. im personally really excited to meet our virtual child (virtually of course) when that magic day does finally come!

I'm working on this!

Mentorship for mastery is where the largest gains come from, so that's where I focus my working energy.

I have an individual practice where I do one-on-one tech mentoring from students to CEOs and beyond, and my clients see huge improvements in their capacity. It's very rewarding, and I intend to keep growing after lockdown ends. Writing marketing copy is harder than mentoring for me, so my website is lacklustre, but it works well enough at hosting my calendly link: https://imagineer.school

Mentorship doesn't replace the entire school experience, though. For that, I'm using the Sudbury Valley School model, and once everyone is vaccinated we'll open a K-12 physical school in Toronto 2025.

Is anyone else here working on democratic education models?

As a parent, the moment my kid qualifies for a vaccine, they get it and will be off to school! Remote learning is slowly making this little one crazy. It hurts to watch.

How did you learn the type of programming that you use for work?

If you’re anything like me or my kids, you’ve probably learned most of it through docs, forums, in-person mentors, peers, and async coursework. In university, much of the act of learning happens in labs, not lectures.

The main model for education we have in the US is oriented around notions of authority and racial imperialism. The idea that a single learned elite sharing the light of knowledge from chosen tomes, to a lower class that is forced to attend... that dates back to Dark Age mass. The fundamental reality was that books were scarce and widespread literacy was impractical. It becomes an ideal venue for twisting or omitting information; a platform for power.

Our reality is fundamentally different. In a world of information abundance, the ability to source, collect, vet, absorb, and apply information matters. The ability to reject bad information matters greatly. The ability to create meaningful information and expression from that becomes a life’s work.

I want my kids to become compassionate, diligent, and excellent at solving a variety of problems using the resources available to them. I want them to see the breadth of human experience and foment desire to live a rich life.

I’ve come to see that modern public education embraces the authoritarian learning model, where the most compliant and capable students are prepared use by those who control the most capital. It’s a system that has been exploited to promote racial disparity in many forms over the years, and corrupted with pressure by religious groups. It’s the education system that created today’s America.

I pulled my kids out. We’re unscheduled and unschooling. My wife is doing doctoral work and one of my sons wants to go to University of Washington CS program. We’re building an academic and project portfolio and planning to do Running Start, aka free community college for k-12. He build a little social network in PHP in 6th grade and taught himself EE from YouTube. Last year he ordered his first run of 50 PCBs from China for a portable video game console he made from scratch. He can run circles around most adults on world history, geography, and critical think at age 13. Why should asshole teachers get to dictate exactly how he spends 10 hours of his life every day, when he has very different learning needs than most of his classmates?

My other son is creative and has been able to dive deep into his passions while also blazing through Khan math, learning animal husbandry, writing short film scripts, and practicing for being a streamer. There is no better venue to learn public speaking than to have to make a tight video presentation. He’s also kind of a tactical genius and I’m letting him push himself as a gamer, because he’s damn talented.

We tried replicating traditional academics at home and it just didn’t work. It depends on use of force to ensure the learning happens, and takes all of the fun out of it.

We’re meeting state standards for homeschooling in the process and trying to make sure they are not lacking in a particular area, but thankfully our state allows for flexibility in teaching models. They have plenty of social opportunities, clubs, sports, music (outside of pandemic circumstances) with far more meaningful interaction time than your average 3 minutes between class and 15 minute lunch break.

We don’t have to do school shooter drills or say the Pledge of Allegiance, but we still proudly fly an American Flag.

I see the system needing to shift away from authority and analytics, and towards creating healthy, whole humans. The short-term, fickle needs of capital, pervasive veneration of dead white men, or dogma of religious groups should not have any part of that process.

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