MIT Blossoms Goes Retro with VCR, TV Teaching System

MIT Blossoms, one of the most effective pieces of educational technology in helping high school students learn math and science, can be operated with an old television and VCR.

MIT engineering professor Richard Larson created the open education platform 10 years ago after visiting a rural school in China, operating with only two bare light bulbs in a room so cold students needed to leave their coats on.  The teacher was capable of employing “blended learning” through the use an old TV set and VCR, which she used to play a science lecture video, stopping intermittently to discuss what they had just heard, writes Annie Murphy Paul for website Slate.

Blossoms (Blended Learning Open Source Science Or Math Studies) was created in an effort to give teachers a series of videos created to be interrupted by engaging, active learning sessions.  There are currently more than 100 lessons available for free on the Blossoms website.  The topics covered include math, engineering, science, physics, and chemistry.  An expert in the field teaches each lesson, writes Lauren Landry for website BostInno.

“We are getting a lot of positive reinforcement that this is the way to go,” Larson says, admitting he hopes the numbers behind MIT Blossoms can soon catch up to that of Khan Academy, another open education platform centered on STEM, created by MIT alum Salman Khan. What Larson hopes will help stand them apart is the in-class, “active learning,” as opposed to the lectures done by Khan that force students to sit solely in front of a computer.

Each lesson offers a series of small video segments as well as a teacher’s guide to coordinate the active learning sessions.

Blossoms does not employ the latest in technology.  Rather, is a “teacher-centric” program that has students’ attention directed at the guest lecturer on the screen, and working in groups to arrive at a conclusion together, instead of encouraging students to work at their own pace.

According to research in psychology and cognitive science, this is exactly how students learn best.  Students do not make the best choices when learning on their own, nor do they focus their attention when faced with a myriad of distractions.  All of this suggests that better technology does not always result in a better education.

The “teaching duet” is also helpful for teachers, who may not always be an expert in their field, but would like to be.  Blossoms gives teachers the opportunity to further their own learning in the subject they teach.  The program is featured on the website of the country’s largest teachers union, The National Education Association.

Larson says the pedagogy has attracted those in developing countries, where computers have been largely ignored for two major reasons: 1) Because teachers know their students know more about technology than they do, and 2) Because computers are often established to be separate from the classroom. To use a computer, teachers often needed to communicate in a lab with their students, turning their role into something “ambiguous, at best.” Through MIT Blossoms, teachers can utilize computers, but also keep their students active in conversation.

Blossoms is currently used in the US, China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Brazil.