Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Data Compressing the Curriculum

I've written about vodcasting lectures for out-of-class consumption and about the idea of information theory in the past. A recent article in the Chronicle puts these together. The piece highlights a practice of condensing a lecture or topic into a one to three minute video that encapsulates the essence of the material to be taught. This would be followed by an exercise to reinforce the material.

You can see one here:

I can see that this technique would work better with some ideas than others. In particular, this is the kind of delivery that would have the best chance of being successful with low-complexity learning: facts, simple pattern recognition, or simple examples of deductive reasoning. In fact, it occurs to me that one could scientifically study the complexity of a task by reducing the length of the mini-lecture until students don't understand anymore. This would be an upper bound on complexity. So perhaps solving a 2x2 system of linear differential equations has 25-minute complexity, whereas learning the basic facts about the Norman Invasion has 2.4 minute complexity. If this worked, you could actually create a taxonomy of knowledge and skills for a discipline that had some (minimal) scientific grounding.

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