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.

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