Wednesday, June 20, 2012

High School 2.0

I recently read an article about online high school classes.  After being a college student, I am well acquainted with online classes.  I feel I have a pretty good idea about their strengths and shortcomings and agree that they certainly have a place in the curriculum.  However, I had not thought much about online courses at the k-12 level. 

The article was The Teacher You've Never Met: Inside and Online High School Class written by Nick Pandolfo on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 for Time magazine.  Here is a link to the article, I encourage you to read it for yourself: The Teacher You've Never Met.  This article is an interview with Jane Good, a teacher with JeffCo Public Schools.  She talks about some of the challenges she has faced as a teacher adapting to teaching online, as well as the challenges that she has faced in working with students and parents on an entirely online system. 

(Used with permission (c) 2012)
Good has about 125 students, 50 of whom study with Good full time.  Students actively participate in class by "raising their hand" and "addressing the class" through clicking buttons and typing or video conferencing with classmates.  In some ways it seems that it has the opportunity to be moderated better than a traditional brick and mortar setting, but in application it appears that questions pile up faster than Good can address them.  Some students who might fall to the back of the class and stay quiet or shy might opt for taking classes like this that do not force them to speak up, but Good fears that this will only compound the problems of shyness and allow students to fall further behind.  Without being able to meet with the student face to face, some students fall through the cracks.

Some students are taking most or all of their high school coursework online, and many elementary and junior high students are taking online classes as well.  This is a far cry from the traditional setting that many of us experienced in our elementary and secondary educations.  But is it comparable?  What are the advantages?  What are the setbacks?

It seems to me that online classes should be allowed in the k-12 setting for specialized classes that would not be economical for traditional schools to provide for students.  Advanced physics taught by a college professor to several high schools in an area would be a logical application considering that not very many students from each school would likely attend, making a combined class a good solution.  Certain classes could certainly be taught online, including courses over technology literacy for example.  However, a 5th grade language arts course or a 3rd grade homeroom course (many general subjects taught) may not be a very successful setting for online instruction.  Freshman speech class may lose some of its effectiveness if students are delivering speeches via recording rather than learning how to speak in front of an audience.

(Used with permission (c) Val Vannet)
Online instruction also has the setback of not allowing students to establish lasting relationships with other students or with other teachers.  It does very little for teaching discipline, respect, values, social skills, etc. that students often experience in elementary and secondary education.  And what about other courses such as music (band/choir), art, or physical education?  Can reasonable substitutes be made for those courses if public school education at the k-12 level were to migrate to a fully online system?

All in all, I see many benefits for online classes, in fact I would advocate requiring several courses to be taken online throughout a students elementary and secondary education in order to prepare them for online courses in their post-secondary education.  However I see some major problems to offering entire elementary and secondary educations online, away from the traditional brick and mortar setting.  Perhaps a compromise can be reached with public schools offering hybrid courses that bring in the best of the benefits of online learning while still in the traditional brick an mortar setting.  Lots of things are changing very rapidly in education.  Where will we find ourselves in five years?  In ten?

*All Images used with permission.
"Online Learning" - Submitted by Author
"Monifieth High School" - http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/9701

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