Monday, April 30, 2012

John Boyer's massive face-to-face class at Virginia Tech

There has been a lot of talk about massive, open, online classes (MOOCs) like those taught at Stanford earlier this year.  But what about massive face-face classes?

Last year I saw John Boyer give a presentation on his 2,670 student, face-to-face World Regions geography class at Virginia Tech.

Boyer teaching his class
The class typically had 50-70 students when Boyer began teaching it in 1998. As the word got out, enrollment grew and the class moved from a classroom to a lecture hall to a large auditorium.

The weekly class meets for four hours, with a one hour dinner break. He has students interact with each other during the class, and also conducts Skype interviews on stage. His most famous interview was with Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi.

He and his class invited her to do the interview in a short (1:36) video clip. Check it out and you will see his trademark plaid jacket and get a feel for his style. You will also see nearly 3,000 cheering students.

Aung San Suu Kyi interview
She accepted their invitation and you can see the interview (33:37) in which students ask questions below. Be sure to watch the last couple of minutes.

As you see, Boyer is a flamboyant teacher who takes plenty of risks and they seem to pay off.

He holds his office hours online and the class uses the hashtag #wrvt. For his office hours, textbook, weekly news and more, go to his Web site.

Boyer concluded the presentation I attended with a few of the things he has learned teaching this large class:
  • A class this large needs less structure, not more. For example, he provides a menu of activities and allows students to select what they will do to accumulate points toward a grade.
  • A class this large cannot work unless students communicate with and help other students.
  • The teacher knows a lot about the topic, but the students collectively know a lot he does not know. (Michal Wesch, who teaches anthropology says the same thing).
Office hours
I did not get around to writing this post when I saw Boyer last year, but was reminded of him by an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education today. Check it out and see his student's comments here.

Finally, I saw Boyer's presentation at the Campus Technology Forum.  I've been to three of them, and they were all excellent learning experiences.