Georgia Tech Puts Education's Future to the Test with TechBurst

In an age where technology drives the pace of change, many universities are struggling to keep up with high-tech education alternatives. However, instead of ignoring the inevitability of change, how can institutions incorporate these disruptive technologies within the traditional university?

That is the question that Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) sought to answer with its first annual TechBurst Competition, where students were invited to create short, sharable videos that explain a single concept in an entertaining and compelling way while competing for $5,000 in cash prizes.

“As a living laboratory, C21U’s goal is to experiment with cutting-edge ideas in higher education by taking change that is occurring at the periphery, like Khan Academy, and incorporating it within an established university,” said Richard DeMillo, director of C21U. “TechBurst fits into that scheme because it takes your conventional lecture and breaks it apart so that it can be reformed and reused in new ways.”

C21U announced the winners of the competition during the TechBurst Awards Ceremony yesterday.  First place went to the video “Constructing the ‘Perfect Cube’ in Biomedical Engineering,” created by Aaron Morris, Rachel Cornelius, Matt Duane and Clair Matthews; second place to “The Physics of Gravitational Pull in Space” submitted by Sarah Lashinksy; third place to “Introduction to Circuits: Resistors, Capacitors and Inductors” submitted by Hunter Scott; and the crowd-sourced winner was “Chemical Combustion” submitted by Erin Lightfoot.

In its inaugural year, TechBurst’s pioneering approach to learning has provided C21U with some valuable lessons regarding technological innovation within the classroom.  After introducing the concept of TechBurst, many Georgia Tech students and faculty were excited by the idea of a crowd-sourced learning tool. 

“We were surprised at the number of professors who were interested in contributing to the project and incorporating TechBurst into their classrooms,” DeMillo said. “Students also expressed a desire to teach what they know to their peers, as well as to be educated by students who have struggled with the same concepts.”

However, TechBurst also faced interesting challenges.

“Since TechBurst videos are student generated, they’re not always correct, and that makes some traditionalists nervous,” DeMillo said. “However, that it is nature of experimentation. This is meant to be a start of a thread of conversations among students, where other students annotate videos and correct errors.”

DeMillo also said that as TechBurst evolves, it will be important to generate entire courses of material, particularly for upper-level STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classes. While there is proliferation of instructional videos for lower-level courses online, hardly any videos exist for upper-level courses. TechBurst videos will be used to populate an online library, which will eventually house videos that explain every topic covered in undergraduate courses offered at Georgia Tech. In the meantime, C21U will continue to hold the TechBurst competition annually and hopes to involve more faculty and students.

“Testing new methods of learning and teaching is not always going to be a smooth process, but that’s inevitable when you’re one of the first universities to adopt a new model,” said DeMillo. “We need to shift the frame of reference from universities as preservers of tradition to drivers of innovation, and TechBurst is one of the ways we are attempting to accomplish that goal.”

Click here to view a video compilation of the winning videos.

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Michaelanne Dye