How Andrew Vanden Heuvel Is Revolutionizing Education from Outside the Classroom

Find out what this Google Glass Explorer and online science teacher thinks about online learning and the future of education.

Andrew Vanden Heuvel, an online instructor based in Michigan, left the classroom three years ago to pursue a career as an online educator after being asked by USA Today to contribute to an article about NASA. That was the start of a journey that led him to the forefront of online learning. Vanden Heuvel now works with the Michigan Virtual School, where he teaches science, astronomy and physics to both K–12 and higher education students. Around the country, technologists, educators and, most importantly, students are taking notice of his work.

Though he isn’t comfortable with the term “eduprenuer,” his freelance work has earned him a sort of celebrity status in the education world. Since he was selected by Google to become a Glass Explorer (a small, handpicked group of developers), his Explorer Story — a video demonstration of how he plans to use Glass — has racked up more than 400,000 views on YouTube.

Sparking Engagement and Channeling Energy

After getting his Google Glass in April, Vanden Heuvel initiated a video project called STEMbite, a YouTube channel where he posts short educational videos filmed with Glass. The videos are fun, engaging and indicative of his approach to learning. Each video is designed to inspire the viewer to want to learn more, fueling a passion that Vanden Heuvel believes can change more than just education.

“That’s what I think is missing from school at all levels: passion. If you were to ask me what the purpose of school is — and this is true of college as well as K–12 — I would say it’s to help students find their passion in life. Once they find that, the rest is just details,” Vanden Heuvel says.

Based on the extraordinary feedback he’s gotten so far, it looks like he’s on to something. “I think it's really hit the right chord because it's a different way to approach teaching. So much of what is out there on YouTube and elsewhere is a video of a teacher in front of board. This is a different approach, made possible through Glass."

"STEMbites are different because they are short, but more importantly, because they aren't focused on teaching the content. They're focused on motivating and inspiring students to learn the content. Those are two different things. My goal isn't to teach everything in a STEMbite video…there are already amazing teachers who can do that in a classroom. My goal is to inspire kids to want to learn the lesson because they see the direct connection to everyday life."

Technology Is a Major Disrupter — and Opportunity — in Higher Ed

Because he teaches students of all ages, Vanden Heuvel has a unique perspective on the education landscape. Higher education, he says, is primed for disruption.

Lecture has been an important part of higher education for centuries. That won’t be changing anytime soon, but it’s low-hanging fruit for online learning. Lectures lend themselves nicely to video, which is a great way to create content for online students. As online education evolves and improves, there will be more and more opportunities for online learning, particularly for STEM students, according to Vanden Heuvel.

"Today, students go to school for four years and they still don't really have the job skills."

"A huge part of a high-quality STEM education is the hands-on lab experience, so it makes you think about what students should be doing when they are in the classroom. It lends itself to an apprenticeship model, where students learn material online and then, as a 19- or 20-year old, enter an apprenticeship with an engineer and learn the job in one year. Today, students go to school for four years and they still don't really have the job skills."

Is it possible that online education could spur a movement to an apprenticeship education model? It might take a while, but technology could be powerful enough to reverse a model that’s over 100 years old, says Vanden Heuvel. “I would argue that you could get 90 percent of a STEM education online if you did it right, with video analysis and well-thought-out interactive simulations. But the nut that no one has cracked yet is labs.”

Once that happens, college could look very different. In the meantime, online education is far from perfect, as its detractors are quick to point out. Considering his work in the field, it might be surprising that Vanden Heuvel is in agreement with many of those critics.

“I'm very critical of online learning, partially because it’s the Wild, Wild West right now. No one really understands it. It's not regulated in any significant way. There are people who are taking advantage of the lax regulations to make a profit off low-cost, low-quality education. That bothers me, but a lot of people write off the entire premise because of a few negative examples. There's tons of really great, innovative stuff happening."

Jul 24 2013