In Pandemic, Advanced Placement Turns to Duke Faculty for Help in High School Lecture Series

As educational institutions seek ways to enhance opportunities for students during the pandemic, the College Board has tapped five Duke University professors to provide recorded lectures to millions of advanced high school students around the world. The new lecture series, called “AP Daily,” offers free, online videos across a variety of college-level topics to students who are learning in person, remotely or in blended learning environments. Students can view the videos independently or Advanced Placement (AP) teachers can assign them as homework. Practice questions accompany each lecture, giving students feedback on their learning progress. High school students who complete AP courses can earn college credit for their efforts, depending on their scores on topic-specific College Board AP exams.

The five Duke professors are among a group from more than 200 universities nationwide who provided video lectures, which collectively have already been viewed millions of times on the Advanced Placement YouTube channel. The Duke participants and their lecture subjects are: Charlie Cox, Chemistry; Owen Astrachan, Computer Science; Denise Comer, English Language and Composition; Deb Reisinger, French Language and Culture; and Lori Leachman, Microeconomics.

Lecturers were chosen primarily because of their subject expertise and prior relationships with the College Board. Reisinger was already co-chair of the French language and culture AP exam committee and serves on other national committees about languages and the high school educational curriculum. Comer has worked with the College Board in several capacities, including as a member of the standard setting panel in her area of expertise and, most recently, as an AP visiting fellow in course and exam development. Astrachan has been associated with the College Board’s AP program since his early career as a high school teacher and helped develop exam and curriculum guidelines for it first AP computer science exam. Since then, he has served as a chief reader, delivered workshops to high school teachers, and was instrumental in developing a highly successful AP course and exam for marginalized students lacking access to computer science courses in high school. 

While the lectures incorporate content comparable to college level courses, subject matter is often highly focused. For example, Comer lectures on style in academic writing, while Reisinger condensed what was essentially a 15-week college course into a three-part talk focused on the global displacement of French speaking refugees, primarily from sub-Saharan Africa and Africa. Astrachan is contributing lectures on both one-dimensional and two-dimensional arrays, which are fundamental data structures still used in nearly every programming language.

For most of the lecturers, the AP initiative is a labor of love, undertaken as a way to feed the pipeline of college students and to contribute to the future of their fields.

 “I’m glad to have had the opportunity to develop a video lecture that meaningfully supplements AP instruction in academic writing,” Comer said. “Particularly within and across a range of disciplinary contexts, and in a way that encourages students to write with more authenticity by integrating and exploring their own dynamic academic writing styles within, alongside of — or even against — expectations and conventions.” 

For Astrachan, accepting the invitation was an easy call that allowed him to continue to advocate for up-to-date computer science instruction among high school teachers, students, parents and administrators. But doing so did require thoughtful application. “Creating lectures for one-off, one-time audiences is a different, though rewarding task compared to college lectures,” he said. “I had to remain mindful of the need to reach students coming from many different types of schools, experiences and backgrounds.”

Meanwhile, Reisinger’s goal was to inspire students to pursue college-level study in language-related fields. She also saw the lecture series as another AP-inspired professional development opportunity for high school faculty — and herself.

“Working with that community has exposed me to the rigors of instruction being followed in high schools,” she explained. “I've been so impressed with the level of learning applied in my areas of expertise. It takes two years to create, pilot, test and statistically validate an AP exam. We don’t even do that on the college level, so it's been great to get a first-hand view of best practices in that regard.”

The entire lecture series will be archived and available to students for years to come.