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Online Education FTW?

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This morning I tore off the top sheet on my one-a-day-calendar (the F in Exams version) and found the following:

Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children. — Dan Quayle, politician

While sadly Quayle-ish, it’s also a true statement in terms of most formal education. It’s easily arguable that kids (and everyone else) learn constantly from various experiences, good and bad, happenstance and designed. But for the most part, and especially for a lot of kids in public education, their designated learning time is during Monday through Friday, from about 7 or 8am until 2 or 3pm, from August or September through May or June, and that’s all. And isn’t it strange that kids are told “You! go learn! Now!” There’s also a sort of tacit implication that weekends and vacations are non-learning (anti-learning?) times.

Then came this little gem, a quick blog entry about why online ed doesn’t get much credit from teachers. (By the way, MOOC means Massive Open Online Course, and I think VLRC means Virtual Learning Resource Center.) While the author, Amy Bruckman, is a professor at Georgia Tech, and therefore is coming from a post-secondary education view, I think this piece is still very true for secondary education.

There are a lot of proposed changes to the public education system in the U.S.. Suggestions include charter schools, open classrooms, more standards and testing, online-only courses, Kahn Academy, online degree programs, the Teach For America programs, and so on. All of these possibilities are touted as game changers, new ways of thinking, new ways of teaching. Few of them have actual data to show benefit to students. And, like Bruckman says, few, if any, of these ideas, come from the collective educational departments across the country. Is it some grand conspiracy by teachers to keep their stagnant, terrible, downward-spiraling jobs and suppress education reform, or is it more that teachers and school districts want to see some proven data before subjecting the kids they care about to new systems?

Here’s the core of the matter: It’s not about getting rid of the old ways (it’s hard to find data that say the old ways actually don’t work — they do work for a majority of students or else we wouldn’t be using them). New education systems can be fantastic resources and should be promoted and used as such. Many of these new systems and ideas are brought up as an “us verses them” scenario: only one way is the correct way and will actually make test scores increase, and the new and old methods are mutually exclusive. It’s pretty sad to think that teachers would outright reject a new idea just because it’s new. I believe good teachers do try to integrate some new things because they’re new and exciting and have possibility and sparked an interest in them so it might ignite something in their students.

But there’s more to this rapid influx of new methods, and it’s more insidious. There are so many new ways (almost fads, in the way they appear and disappear) that say the current system is broken, some people (even politicians) think that our teachers are broken or incompetent or lazy. Society needs to recognize the amount of work that goes into preparing a body of knowledge for 180+ students’ consumption on a daily basis, and attempting to make it enthralling. It’s about recognizing that teachers do give some genuine input and value in the classroom and in the education of students. Some people can learn in a vacuum or room only populated by computers, but not many can learn the nuances of a subject without others’ experience, encouragement, and constructive criticism. My favorite teachers taught me something about how to be a good person, and not just about geography or English. That kind of education could never come from pixels.

It’s about respect for people in the professional field of teaching.


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