TVI and Scaling the Small Seminar

TVI and Scaling the Small Seminar
by Fred M Beshears
7 February 2021

Back in November of 2020, Michael Feldstein started posting a blog series on small seminars. My comments are posted below

Scaling the Seminar
by Michael Feldstein
1 November 2020

FMB Comment on 7 February 2021

Back in the early 1970s, Stanford came up with an idea that they used in their distance education program. It’s not a faculty led small seminar, but it does involve organizing students into small, student-led study groups. The innovator here was Jim Gibbons, the dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering. He decided to combine a technology that was new at the time, the cheap VCR, with an old idea of organizing students into study groups.

He called it Tutored Video Instruction, which is a bit misleading because the tutor is actually the student who’s leading the study group. Now days this approach is called team-based learning. IMO, it deserves at least as much attention as some other ideas that are more popular today (e.g. the flipped classroom).

As John Seely Brown describes below, the student-led study group team meets face-to-face to work their way through lecture videos that have been broken up into relatively small segments (e.g. 10 minutes). At the end of each segment, the team leader stops the video and the study group works collectively on problem sets and discussion questions. There is not paid teacher in the room, but today one could envision a slight alternative where the students could meet virtually with a paid tutor via Zoom.

IMO, even though it’s sometimes thought of as “distance education,” the TVI approach would be an improvement on the large lecture classes we see today. Yes, the large lecture is technically face-to-face instruction. But the large the class gets, the harder it is to see the distinction.

Back when I worked at UC Berkeley (1987-2007), we used to joke about our large lecture classrooms: “How many rows back do you have to sit before it becomes distance education?”

In any case, Michael, I think that TVI (aka team-based learning) deserves to be mentioned in your discussion of how we might scale up small seminars so they can be seen as alternatives to large lecture classes.

John Seely Brown on Tutored Video Instruction

FMB Comment on 1 November 2020

You may want to consider Tutored Video Instruction. It’s a simple idea that goes back almost fifty years. Essentially, to replace a lecture course, you organize students into small study groups of around 5 to 7 students. You make one student the study group leader (aka the “tutor”), and you provide the group with a video of a lecture that’s been broken up into segments. You also provide them with study questions and problem sets. The group leaders start and stop the lecture video at scheduled intervals. In between lecture video segments, the group leader puts the study questions and problems for that segment to the group.

Back in the mid-1970s, the Dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering, James Gibbons, pioneered this approach to distance education. He still believes in it today.

Here’s something that John Seely Brown had to say about TVI in his classic book The Social Life of Information.

John Seely Brown on Tutored Video Instruction

Also, here’s a recent interview with Gibbons, who’s still active at Stanford.

Lessons in remote learning from the 1970s: A Q&A with James Gibbons

The former dean of Stanford Engineering looks to experiments he did more than 45 years ago to help answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: How will online learning work out?

By Andrew Myers

August 14, 2020

2 thoughts on “TVI and Scaling the Small Seminar

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