Stanford Medical School Professors Abandon Lectures and Flips The Classroom

May 9th, 2012

So, last week, two Stanford professors made a courageous proposal to ditch lectures in the medical school. “For most of the 20th century, lectures provided an efficient way to transfer knowledge, But in an era with a perfect video-delivery platform — one that serves up billions of YouTube views and millions of TED Talks on such things as technology, entertainment, and design — why would anyone waste precious class time on a lecture?,” write Associate Medical School dean, Charles Prober and business professor, Chip Heath, in The New England Journal of Medicine. Instead, they call for an embrace of the “flipped” classroom, where students review Khan Academy’s YouTube lectures at home and solve problems alongside professors in the classroom. Students seem to love the idea: when Stanford piloted the flipped classroom in a Biochemistry course, attendance ballooned from roughly 30% to 80%.

Skeptical readers may argue that Khan Academy can’t compete with lectures from the world’s great thinkers. In response, Prober and Heath point to a recent one-week study that compared the outcomes of two classes, a control class that received a lecture from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and an experimental section where students worked with graduate assistants to solve physics problems. Test scores for the experimental group (non-lecture) was nearly double that of the control section (41% to 74%).

“Students are being taught roughly the same way they were taught when the Wright brothers were tinkering at Kitty Hawk,” they explain. After a revolution, an organization should bear little resemblance to its former self. Harvard and MIT have merely placed the 20th century education model online. Stanford, on the other hand, is completely doing away with the old model of the “sage on the stage” and embracing a learning environment that mirrors life forever connected to the world’s information.

I hope to do this, soon, in my class.

From the article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

That’s the vision that we want to chase: education that wrings more value out of the unyielding asset of time. There are limits to the amount we can lengthen class periods and the additional homework we can assign, but we can use our limited time in ways that boost engagement and retention. Imagine first-year medical students learning critical biochemical pathways by watching short videos as many times as necessary in the comfort of their personal learning space. Knowledge acquisition is verified by repeated low-stakes quizzes. Then, in class, the students participate in a discussion that includes a child with a metabolic disease, his or her parents, the treating clinician, and the biochemistry professor. The relevant biochemistry — so dry on the page of a textbook — comes to life. The lesson sticks

Lectures are a waste of time. I hope to have all my lectures on YouTube in Khan-Academy style online weeks before class, so students can review it at their own leisure. Class will be for solving problems and applying the knowledge (you know, the stuff most students see for the very first time on an exam).

Oh, and I just received my schedule. In the fall I will be teaching two sections of Property II–MW from 2:00-3:30 and 7:45-9:15. I am really looking forward to having an evening section!