Monday, July 30, 2012

Online Education: Room to Grow

Discussions about technology in the classroom--especially blended learning models--yield consternation about the prospect of technology replacing teaching. Technology couldn’t possibly replace teaching. It is a tool and a medium; it’s like saying desk chairs replace teaching. Andrew Rotherham of Bellwether Education--and his commenting readers--wrote convincingly on this topic earlier this year.
More recently, Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute makes a concise case for this in this response to a recent NYT blog. However, I have to issue a caveat about this link: Horn also cites another posting about the op-ed by Steven Spear, which defends the role of online instruction. While I agree with Spear’s conclusion that online instruction can be valuable (and is here to stay regardless), his arguments are troubling.  Spear essentially says that, while online education is inferior to live instruction, “those with less opportunity” should be happy to settle for the online option as a good enough combination of value and reach. That position shortchanges the present and future of online education and obviously short-changes “those with less opportunity.” And it is folly to accept his argument that because a lot of people do something, it is automatically a societal benefit. And frankly when there are this many errors of syntax, mechanics, and usage in a posting, it’s difficult to buy that posting as the words of an expert.
"Online education" is a gigantic and as yet immature notion with a variety of formats, as laid out by  Horn and Heather Staker here. It is becoming more differentiated, and more sophisticated. It can be neither summarily dismissed nor roundly celebrated. We're just getting started here; some things will fall by the wayside and some will work, and we will slowly become experts at which ideas work best with which students for which purposes.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A survey of inspiration

I’ve spent a lot of time the past year or two to researching inspiring or game-changing ideas and innovations in the classroom. Mapping them all out has helped me inductively conclude what sort of things apparently have been fascinating and inspiring me in K-12 education:
  • Project-based or inquiry-based learning
  • Environmental education/ experiences
  • Open source/ free educational content
  • Innovation incubators
  • Individually paced learning
  • Systems for communication between teachers and students
  • Professional learning and classroom management systems for teachers
  • Research and policy for school improvement
I also had a ninth category, called
  • Wow!!
In this category, I saw that I was putting initiatives built around authentic project-based learning, where students recognize a need in the actual world, analyze it, and interact with it—especially the ones related to conservation or the environment.

I don’t have an E for environment or C for conservation in my blog-acronym. Blogcronym. But I consider experiencing and interacting with the natural world a matter of relevance. And Necessity. N.E.A.R. to the Ground? That works, too.

Welcome to E.A.R. to the Ground

I am a Chicago-based education writer. My background is in teaching and curriculum development; my future is in education reform.*
By “reform,” I don’t mean “refurbishing.” I mean it’s time to start over. I thought about calling this blog Tabula R.A.T.A. because it’s time to wipe the K12 slate clean and start over, on four pillars: Relevance to the real world, Access for all children to an effective education, use of Technology to liberate and empower teachers and students, and Authentic learning experiences that have purpose and context.

But Tabula R.A.T.A. seems like a bit of a mouthful, and a bit…I don’t know, stark? So I’m calling it E.A.R. to the Ground. Equity, Authenticity, Relevance—three qualities around which the experience in the classroom must transform. Equitable access to a quality education for all students; Authentic learning, including a purpose and context; and experiences that have Relevance to actual twenty-first century life.

There are a lot of other things that need to be reinvented—financial and legislative processes, teachers’ training and working conditions—honestly, it’s all a mess. But this blog is going to focus, mostly, on the E.A.R.—Equity, Authenticity, and Relevance—of learning experiences.
So, I’ve been putting my ear to the ground and listening for the coming sea change. I want to be there when the tide rolls in. I want to be part of that tide, make it happen, direct its flow to maximize regeneration. It’s going to be fantastic. It’s going to get us places. It’s going to change the landscape. It might be a little scary, but we can prepare for it, ride it, roll with it, travel on it. We’re all part of it.

*UPDATE: As I write, I learn. Education reform--it means working to make things better, for teachers and students alike. But like so many other terms, like "values" and "family" and "life," and "freedom," "education reform" seems to have been co-opted by political forces. I don't consider "reform" to mean "forcing a narrow band of rigid measures aimed at reducing teachers' profile and autonomy and controlling money." I consider "reform" to mean, simply, changes for improvement.