The Floating University: What If All the World’s Best Thinkers Could Be Your Teachers?

The Floating University is a new educational media venture that creates and distributes online multimedia curricula, rich in text, video, animation and graphics, that feature today’s biggest thinkers, practitioners and leading scholars.

Their  video lectures “are paired with related texts to introduce complex multidisciplinary subjects in an entertaining and engaging way. Whether you’re a life long learner or a current university student, [their] goal is to take you on a journey of discovery into myriad disciplines — to let you explore unfamiliar territory in a new light — and to pose questions that will encourage critical thinking and robust debate.

For schools, they “aim to invert the traditional lecture model of learning to focus valuable classroom time on interaction, exchange, and discussion, rather than on the passive consumption of live, in-person lectures” (Source).

The Floating University launched last fall with an online course offered at Harvard, Yale and Bard and delivered the key takeaways of an entire undergraduate education. Learn more in this short video.

Disrupting Education: There Are No Boundaries to Knowledge Anymore

This clip/commercial has really gotten in my head. I keep thinking about the juxtaposition of traditional education, innovation, reform, media and technology that this represents. I see this as a sort of a microcosm of what so many of us are talking about and involved in education. In this clip we see a disruptive innovation, online and/or hybrid learning, and some would argue that the classroom has been flipped. I see connections between this delivery platform and the notion that some have that failing schools would improve if they had access to the best teachers. In higher education reports indicate that more and more students are preferring the perceived flexibility of online courses and institutions are strategically planning how they intend to respond.

I’m also really curious to see how interactive and engaging the courses are and how effective they are at promoting creativity and critical thinking. These terms are used frequently on the site and in this video. I also noticed on the website that everything is optimized for use on the iPad which could open the door for interesting opportunities related to engagement. However, I often see teachers, schools, and institutions make similar claims under the pervasive but misguided notion that the very act of using technology makes instruction more effective and more engaging while automatically promoting higher levels of thinking. That just isn’t accurate. Given the reputations of the universities and lecturers involved as well as the feature-rich and content-rich Floating University and Big Think websites I’m going to speculate that they are doing at least a respectable job, and perhaps even better, in these areas. I would enjoy the opportunity to view and experience the Floating University’s courses for myself. The idea of “robust debate” in an online class sounds like fun to me!

Change is in the air. I wonder how all of this will play out over the next few years and subsequent decades. We’ll we resolve these matters or will they have to be solved by the next generation(s) of educators? Perhaps you’ll share your reactions to the the Floating University and to some of the thoughts I have shared.

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Clif Mims

Clif Mims is a Christian, husband, father, teacher, cancer warrior, and fan of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Memphis Grizzlies.

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