Fluff or substance? Revolution or fad? Where is online tutoring and digital learning going to take us?
When I was in K-12 school in the 1970s, mostly, education was being turned over. The students had no idea, as it was just happening to us. But what is education today was largely defined by the research, theories, experiments, and, mostly, fads of that period.
We didn’t much care about the theory behind 90 minute, off-campus lunch periods in high school that were designed to encourage us to “find ourselves.” We just loved all that free time. (And, yes, we found ourselves alright; my best friend’s motorcycle was a crucial element to that soul searching.). And we had no idea why our 9th grade “REAL” program let us romp through classrooms and periods and, essentially, do what we wanted. (More self-discovery…).
I can’t even begin to explain why my year older sister was taught to diagram sentences and I was not. That year, probably 3rd or 4th grade, someone, somewhere upstream from us in pedagogical lalaland decided that diagramming was old fashioned and rote and that kids should learn by emoting grammar, I guess, and not knowing it precisely. Dumbass decision. At least they hadn’t changed the memorization of the multiplication tables when I was there. My regrets to those whose elementary schools now treat 7 times 8 as a learning process and not an outcome. Thankfully I can do my multiplication tables (and, yes, I use them for more than just watching football games), but I had to relearn grammar when I became a teacher. With a degree and awards in writing and my published articles and books, I hereby attest that my ability to write was not the product of not learning how to diagram a sentence. It really would have helped.
What’s your latest fad?
From the 1970s school systems to today, “re-forming” has been a nonstop practice, which is more like slash and burn than “re- making.” We’ve ended up with casserole instead of cuisine, just tossing bits and pieces into the mess, each new element diluting the rest, rendering all of it tasteless.
As I mentioned above, we students didn’t know why things were happening, but we sure knew what, and being wolves, we found every weakness in it and abused it mercilessly. I’m sure some of us would have rebelled against traditional structures, but I am equally sure that fewer of us would have rebelled, and that most of us would never have gotten away with it. As with the non-relationship between my lack of grammar education and writing accomplishments, whatever the current success of my classmates has nothing to do with our lax education. I just wonder that all of us couldn’t have been better at what we are had we better early education. Had I been forced to read Shakespeare throughout my schooling, I would be better able to enjoy Shakespeare today — and the incredible benefits of it. Sorry, that single high school and single college course on the Bard did not prepare me for life the way a deep understanding of Shakespeare, say the kind that Lincoln built for himself, could have. Instead of abiding the lessons, I’ve been living our their mistakes…
Well, I could have and still can read Shakespeare on my own, as did Lincoln — and my wife, who knows the plays very well and who can quickly and cleverly reach back to them for precise analysis on any subject today. But, seriously, what did I learn in all those years of English classes? I can’t think of much.
Schools might start by admitting that they are not the be and end of all things in students. If we start from that proposition, then let’s focus more on what schooling can be for students and their life experiences. Foremost, schooling should not be an experiment. The more things change, the less students can benefit from the good within any given system. Tweaking should be within and not without existing conditions. The most dynamic, productive and successful systems are not rigid, but neither are they all plastic.
Next, schooling can not be all about self-discovery for students. If it were, then schools are just babysitters. Oh, wait… Alright, there are valid, valuable lessons in school, all the socialization, all the benefits of the experts we call teachers, the sports, the music, and so on. These are important. But in order to be all things to all students schools have sacrificed so much learning.
Now, back to online tutoring & learning:
In this article from July 27k, 2012 in the Wall Street Journal, Quinn Cummings offers a nice synthesis of the old and the new:
Online classes have already become part of an extended curriculum for many students. In the iTunes version of public education, relevant learning experiences will originate from the large redbrick building down the street, from a recreation center downtown, from a music studio in Seattle or a lecture hall in London. As our habits evolve, it won’t be home schooling as we’ve known it, but it won’t be brick-and-mortar schooling, either. I call it “roam schooling.”
Imagine that your high-school junior spends half of every day at the brick-and-mortar school up the street. Two afternoons a week, he logs into an art-history seminar being taught by a grad student in Paris. He takes computer animation classes at the local college, sings in the church choir and dives at the community pool. He studies Web design on YouTube. He and three classmates see a tutor at the public library who preps them for AP Chemistry. He practices Spanish on Skype and takes cooking lessons at a nearby restaurant every Saturday morning.
Ms. Cummings offers us a beautiful vision of how this new, digital world can work for online tutoring & learning. I’m on board. But…
Assuming my proposition that change should be within, how can we most effectively incorporate online learning into our schools and K-12 education? Some suggestions:
- For most students online learning should be an accessory and not a replacement for the regular classroom.
- All but a few students should be required to take an online course of some kind, especially over the summer.
- For some students, online learning offers amazing opportunities and should be there for them. However, even with motivated students, oversight is essential in order to make sure kids aren’t taking advantage of the, shall we say, excessive flexibility of the digital environment. Executive function skills should still be taught and given oversight and guidance.
- Students should be allowed complete freedom of choice in selecting teachers online. As the online model negates the need for scheduling constraints on teacher selection, there is zero reason to impose that brick and motor requirement upon digital learners.
- Digital learning is the perfect platform for sorting out teacher excellence and allowing students to choose and reward it. Let this one fly!
- Top students will flourish regardless of the platform, so online learning should be as freely available for top students as for the rest. The more high-level online classes that are available to the best kids will provide those same opportunities for students of lesser performance outcomes and who may well respond better to the digital than the classroom environment. The opportunity should be there (with appropriate oversight).
- Above all else, digital leaning should be about learning. Not discover. Not convenience. Just learning, and it needs to be measured that way.
Of course at School4Schools.com and The A+ Club we are keenly interested in digital learning and online tutoring. Our system is all about using technology to enhance student performance, and we firmly believe in the digital efficiencies and tools that can be used to develop student success. We also know their limits. At some point, it’s just another tool, and these tools do not negate human nature. We have several students in our support program that are taking digital classes, and the need for tracking, oversight and building self-accountability are no less crucial for those courses than for regular daytime schooling. The need for direct student oversight can be heightened in the digital environment, especially for certain types of students.
We know that the digital revolution is coming, and we are already a part of it with our online tutoring & learning programs. We are committed, however, to being a contributor to it as a positive force, and not merely a disruptive one.