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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Are Superintendents the Problem?

It seems that Darren Cannell and his Teaching and Developing Online blog continue to provide me with material to think and write about. This particular one, entitled "Online learning generates educational controversy," came courtesy of his "daily Bloglet" service (see the "Mailing List" feature in the right hand column of his blog - if you are interested in online learning at all, I'd encourage you to sign up). The entry directs you to an article from The Express-Times by Jeff Schogol entitled "Online learning generates educational controversy".

The reason this article caught my attention was because it kind of fit into the theme that we have been discussing lately, what is wrong with the current system of public education and can virtual schooling be a way to fix it. For example, in the article they state that this K-8 virtual charter school "provides a flexible, individual and free education program that allows students to move at their own pace. This approach makes it easy for parents to get actively involved in their children's education." According to the virtual school's website, "each student is loaned a computer and other equipment to take the classes." The article also tells us that the school's website claims that the school "will serve as an example of how a school's parents, students, and teachers can reach their goal of achieving an excellent education through the effective use of technology. In concept, design, and delivery, the school will be a model of innovation and excellence."

Having said that, some of the critics of this particular school (and this method of schooling) state in the article "what you won't get is any socialization. I think that's especially difficult for kids because they're social beings and when they leave school they enter the social world." Another superintendent, funny how all the critics are superintedents, states that "Students who take classes online also miss developing friendships and ways to deal with adversity."

What really caught my attention in this article, and I think where we can really start to discuss things is when the article states:

"Online education will not replace classroom learning because teachers are valuable resources. Kids need teachers. They need parents. They need adults in their lives, and that sorely lacks when that void exists.

"Technology can enhance how students work together but can never replace the classroom setting. I think you need human interaction, you need questioning, you need facilitating, you need stimulation to learn. So technology is a tool, not an instructor."
Now, there's some food for thought... Online education will not replace the classroom because teachers are valuable resources. This implies that online education, such as that provided by virtual high schools, does not involve teachers. So, all those adults running around administering courses in virtual schools, well, I'm not sure what they're doing, but apparently they aren't teaching. At least, not according to this superintendent.

And apparently there is no human interaction occuring in the teaching that does occur in online education (that is, unless you buy into the previous paragraph and agree that there is no teaching in online education). So when the teachers correspond with students in e-mail, when they discuss with students on a bulletin board, when they chat through an instant messenger or using a synchronous virtual classroom tool, apparently none of this constitutes human interaction.

The Journal of Educators Online recently published an article in it called "Relative Effectiveness Of Computer-based And Human Feedback For Enhancing Student Learning. The purpose of the study discussed in this article was "to examine the educational impact of presenting various levels of computer-based, online feedback (no-feedback, knowledge-of-response, knowledge-of-correctresponse, topic-contingent, and response-contingent) either alone or paired with human interaction in an independent, mastery learning environment." The researchers found "that student learning is enhanced by human interaction but is not influenced by the various types of computer-based feedback." more specifically, "students prefer feedback that is direct and clearly addresses the correctness of their response; and instructors cannot rely on computer-based feedback alone to correct errors in student understanding as live interaction remains a critical element for student success in independent learning environments." Imagine that, human interaction.
But once again, if we believe the superintendents above, not only is there no teaching in online education, but there is no human interaction either. I like how they specifically call it online education instead of online learning, did you notice that. It kind of implies that there isn't necessarily any learning actually occuring, but I guess that's the point. If there isn't any teaching going on or any human interaction occuring, why would there be any learning?

But I disgress... In addition to giving me a chance to raise the issues of what is teaching in online education and what does human interaction look like in online education, this also fits in with the theme that we've had this past week. The past three entries that I have made (see Virtual Schools on the Internet: Could this Cure Education's Woes?, What Are Virtual Schools For? and The Next Big Thing in Public Education?) have all considered what is wrong with the public education system and can virtual schooling be an avenue to cure some of those ailments. Consider the fact that all of the negative comments about this virtual school were made by public school superintedents. Forgetting the fact that this virtual school is a charter school and, in essence, stealing taxpayer's money from the public school system, look at the nature and the wording of their criticisms of the virtual school. Could it be that the superintendents' complete lack of understanding of the potential of virtual schooling is the problem? Does this contribute to some of the problems that we see in public education today? I don't know the answer for sure, but I'd be willing to say that it probablyisn't helping matters any.

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