[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

According to a College Board webinar I participated in last week via EdLeader21,  as part of its promised “revamp” of the AP toward depth over breadth and better integration of the skills and content, the College Board/ Advanced Placement program is developing a new online platform called “the AP Lifeline.”  It is intended to be a rich resource and repository of the “learning objectives” in each subject area, with mini-lectures on each and sample questions and answers.

(Click here for the College Board’s overview of their changes).

I am a bit put-off by the name: AP Lifeline? Doesn’t that almost sound as if the AP drives kids to an almost suicidal level of stress, so much so that they require being thrown a lifeline?  Now, many are concerned that this is the case (see the new film Race to Nowhere), and we all are aware that a small number of students do struggle with academic stress to the point of suicidal impulses, but it seems an odd choice by the College Board/AP to acknowledge and underscore this problem by naming their resource the “Lifeline.”  Give them points, I guess, for self-awareness rather than denial.

But how about:

  • the AP Hub?
  • AP Deeper?
  • AP Inquiry?
  • AP Connect?

The most intriguing element to me of the “Lifeline” is that each of a course’s learning objective will have three separate video lessons posted.   The webinar presenter, Trevor Packer, explained that these videos will be carefully chosen and will be exemplary in quality of instruction.

This allows a students struggling with a particular topic to go online and view three different teachers teaching that same topic or that same skill in three different ways.  It is a tool teachers can use when a student is not understanding a particular topic and a teacher has no more time to continue to re-mediate that particular student and the teacher can direct students to go online to this website where the students can see how another teacher is teaching this topic.

In many ways this is a ”Stealth Move” on our part, because by providing video examples of  teachers  teaching in a skill-based, inquiry-based way rather than a lecture-based way, we hope that we can provide AP teachers themselves examples of what  really good, effective teaching looks like so that they themselves can be shifting away from stand and delivery pedagogy that too frequently characterize college courses and AP courses as well.

I find fascinating the irony of the College Board, which via its AP program has for decades stunted and foreclosed opportunities for high school teachers to teach via inquiry and project based learning, now not only recognizing the need to change the curriculum and test format but actually working to facilitate the transition of pedagogical technique.

There is a trust factor at play here: the proof is in the pudding, and we all will be curious to see how high quality the forthcoming video lessons will be and how truly they will exemplify inquiry and skills-based learning.   (It would seem a bit unfortunate that the single image chosen (see image above) to represent the video lessons appears to be exactly a “stand and deliver” teaching technique, but perhaps that is part of the “stealth” move). (In fairness, this image is probably just a preliminary mock-up, and the will likely correct course before going live with it).

I think there are two things to celebrate here (and call me naive): first that the AP program has committed itself to this course, and second that the 21st century learning “movement” is prevailing so successfully as to persuade the AP that it should both revise its curriculum and testing and also influence teaching technique toward inquiry and pbl.

When asked if the AP Lifeline will be free and open, the presenter responded that “Our goal is that AP lifeline be free, but we cannot commit to that yet.”

In the presentation, the presenters explained the lifeline’s use for students as being primarily for remediation, but for those educators exploring the concept of reverse instruction or “flipping” the classroom, of course, this forthcoming resource leaps out as an exciting new opportunity.   Many AP teachers struggle for time in-class for experimentation and inquiry, and now they can experiment with assigning students to watch the lectures online at AP Lifeline, and come to class the next day ready to apply their learning.

AP Lifeline, the presenters assured us,  will not be primarily a one-way presentation channel.

There will be opportunities for students to interact with other students and coaches who have mastered the topic that topic themselves, and assess themselves to establish  themselves as experts in particular topics to coach and mentor their peers.  We are trying to create this  in a way that is very collaborative and will tap into the potential of social media for students to certify themselves as experts and help each other.  You can see this on the screen in the area, Select a Study Buddy.

I think this is great– so many of are recognizing the power of networking for learning, and I think many students would be delighted to be able to collaborate with others to better study and learn the material, and I am deeply convinced that the best way for any of us to learn is to teach: how cool that students can establish themselves as experts and then begin coaching their peers.

I do know that many are deeply disillusioned by the College Board and AP, and I share that; in the spirit of positive reinforcement though, and with a trusting, but I hope not gullible, spirit, I am delighted to see the transformation of the AP that the College Board is promising.

Note: In the course of the webinar I explicitly asked if the information provided in the webinar was confidential to participants, and was told that it was not:   “Anything can be shared and quoted.”