Flipped Classes and Campus Tours

Why undergraduate campus tour guides are starting to talk about learning technology.

February 23, 2014

Last week we accompanied our high school daughter (a junior) on her big college visit week. Eight schools in six days. Lots to process.

By far, the most important aspect of every campus visit in determining if a given school makes “the list” is the campus tour.  

Admissions departments of America. You may think that all those brochures that you send to high school juniors has an impact. I’m not so sure. The campus information sessions? Not so much.  

What really matters is the quality of the campus tour.  

And that means that much is riding on the quality of the campus tour guide.

If any of you are worried about the future of the Republic should spend some quality time (usually about an hour) with a campus tour guide. You would immediately stop worrying, and begin to question your own communication skills and accomplishments.   

A representative campus tour guide biography: “Hi, I’m Erica.  I’m a biology, economics, and dance triple major. In addition to my academics, I play varsity soccer, sing is 2 a cappella groups, participate in the campus improv theater group, helped found the quidditch club, and in my spare time I tutor underprivileged youths”. 

How much does learning technology make it into the campus tour?

The news here is mixed.   

As you may fear, our obsession with learning technology does not quite seem to be shared by even the best campus tour guides.  

Every campus tour guide talks about 3 things: a) How great the professors are. b) How great the dorms are. c) How great the food is.   

If we were going to gauge the quality of our postsecondary institutions by the judgments of our campus tour guides than our self-images would be immeasurably improved.  

Bizarrely, every undergraduate tour guide will still mention the number of books that the library possesses - as well as that marvelous invention -  interlibrary loan. (Although none of the tour guides appear to have had the need to avail themselves of that particular service).

What is seldom talked about by the campus tour guide is what every learning technologist Dad wants to hear about - learning technology.

We never heard what learning management system (LMS) the school uses.

The brand of the student information system (SIS) never seemed to come up.

We only once heard about lecture capture.

What we did hear about was flipped classes. (Music to my ears).

Unbidden by prompting from any geeky educational technology parents who may have happened to be on the campus tour, a couple of campus tour guides did mention how “awesome” these new flipped classes are.

They did not always use the lingo, but they described how in some of their larger classes the professor records the lecture ahead of time, and then the normal classroom lecture time is spent discussing the material and “doing stuff”.

Flipped classes were almost always talked about in the context of how great it is when a professor can spend individual time with students. How having access to online lecture material enables more classroom time to be spent going over difficult topics. How having the teaching materials online can make even larger introductory classes feel like smaller classes, as the professor is free to roam around and work with groups or individual students on the work being done during the class session.

One campus tour guide talked about how he felt that he could learn much better from a professor who knew him as an individual. He talked about how getting to know his professors, and having his professors get to know him, has been the best part of college.

I predict that we will see descriptions about flipped classes make it into the campus tour guide pantheon of talking points.   

I predict that a standard campus tour guide stump speech (while walking backwards) will begin to include how great it is how the school is reinventing the lecture class.    How lecture classes used to be about listening and taking notes, and now with so much of the teaching available online that lecture classes are opportunities to work closely with faculty and other students on difficult problems.

I predict that campus tour guides will start to talk more about technology, but only to the extent that they are talking about how technology creates new opportunities to get to better know faculty.

Were you ever a campus tour guide?


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