I’m semi-live blogging this session, as there was no wireless connectivity in the Convention Center ballrooms. As I said yesterday, this is something that the conference should work on for next year. Can’t have a major tech conference for educators and not have connectivity :(. While for most readers there won’t be much new info, the presentation was engaging, and something that many educators need to hear to rattle their cages a bit (my comments in italics).
A National Perspective on Online Learning and Technology
Susan Patrick (North American Council of Online Learning)
According to Patrick, the most important area that is transforming learning is online learning and virtual schools. We’ll never be able to do what we have to do if we teach from bell to bell (i.e. we need to think about breaking boundaries). Also will be able to let the kids who excel get ahead, let them go.
Friedman’s The World is Flat: Ohio and Michigan are living it. The world is changing. China’s K-12 curriculum is completely digitized. Mexico is providing a laptop for every teacher, digitizing the K-12 curriculum (I’m looking for links to substantiate both statements; if you have any please send them to me or post in the comments). Because of these kinds of developments, we need to start getting a global perspective on our expectations. E.g. in Mexico 8th grade kids do advanced physics. There is no reason they can’t.
In April 2006, Michigan just passed a law stating that every child needs to have some kind of online learning experience, because most colleges and jobs now have e-learning components.
Students are starting to take courses online in K-12 because they are not available in any other way. This opens up options for kids.
Online communication between kids is different from f2f. They tend to clique less and interact more. Richness and interaction.
Patrick then used the following analogy to put the situation in education in perspective. You can’t take a farmer from 100 years ago and put him on a farm today due to tech/tool advances. The same goes for hospitals and doctors’ offices. Yet in schools we are still doing the same thing we have been for a long time, and a teacher from the past wouldn’t see too much of a difference in many classrooms of today.
Even so, we’ve invested money to the point were we have a 4:1 student:computer ratio. But do we want to share our computers with others on the job? Or go to a lab? Yet the environments in schools are set up that way (Others, like Judy Breck, have made this same comment).
Today’s kids are born in the age of the Internet. Virtual and real world are both a part of their environment. Students are in this dual frame of mind. Schools aren’t. Students see 24/7 access, wifi, and technology in the real world (e.g. there is more technology in a toothpaste factory than in our schools), but not in schools (i.e. there is a disconnect there between students and schools, leading to boredom and in a lot of cases, drop-out).
One of the solutions Patrick proposed is asynchronous online learning, where technology is not the ultimate goal, but access to the best teachers is, i.e. online learning. This area of education is growing:
2002: 40,000 registered learners five years ago, 5-6 online schools
Today, 27 online schools (3 in the last three months)
We can’t keep doing the same things in the same way. We need to start rethinking how we use time.
US: broadband can handle online learning now, because of 4:1, but will become a problem in the future (was part of the ubiquitous report at NECC 2006)
Industry: transform the environment, then introduce new technologies.
Schools: use the same environment and add technology (doesn’t work for hardware, training reasons etc.). For online learning you are forced to transform the environment of learning, funding models change, teacher development needs to be rethought, etc. This means CHANGE.
Michigan (online experience is a graduation requirement)
Florida (funded only for successful completion of courses)
Utah (funded only for successful completion of courses)
Online learning is not a replication of traditional programs. Asynchronous learning helps you to start asking the right questions: what is quality content, learning, teaching? So it takes transformation, not replication of what you already do in the classroom in an online environment.
Online learning in K-12 is 10 years behind higher education (3,000,000 in higher ed learning according to Sloan).
2007: 750,000 (projected)
36% of districts in the US are offering online learning. Growing rates are ranging from 35-50% a year.
US high school graduation rate is 70%, 50% in urban areas. How can this be if we spend as much money as we do on education (2nd in the world after Switzerland; an interesting ranking of the quality of educational programs can be found here.). Kids drop out because we are disengaged (see e.g. this story from Colorado, and this 2006 feature in Time Magazine). We need to train teachers to use online environments. Kids need more options. The problem of disengagement is not going to go away. We need to break through the old ways of thinking to provide more options, quality, asynchronous options.
You need staffing and policies for oversights (see e.g. Colorado report, Idaho and Kansas audits are next).
Global economy is here, yet kids are isolated because they are not globally connected (e.g. studying Mandarin Chinese and hooking up with kids in China).
90% of jobs now require at least two years of college. Kids are no longer taking 4 years of math in the US. Need more than just two languages, like in the EU. The UK is digitizing its entire curriculum and putting it online. China is going wireless quickly (no FCC rules (which is good and bad)).
European Union: international baccalaureate for 26 different countries. Rigorous curriculum. Put gold standards of classes online and train master teachers to use it. Asia is already interested. Why is this not happening in the US? The largest cost for online programs is building quality curriculum. So the EU is creating classes once, in the US we are doing it over and over again because of the way our system is set up. Is this really the best way to go?
Papert quote: analogy of transportation and education. During the 1950s, the US was entering an unparallel era in global economy. Europe had the fastest trade ships. The US government wanted to redesign the steam ship to make it faster than Europe’s. The year they did it (1952), Europe sent the first cargo plane over the Atlantic, steam ship went bankrupt.
In education, are we redesigning the steam ship or are we trying to create the cargo plane? Too much we are still stuck with the steam ship and training teachers to run the steam ship, instead of going for the cargo plane.
You can take the best f2f teacher but can’t just stick them online. You have to rethink the curriculum, classroom management online, teacher training… Teaching online is very different from teaching f2f.
Synthesis of new research on K-12 learning report (2005):
1. online learning is expanding options
2. online learning works (research shows: equal or better to f2f)
3. online learning is improving teaching
Online learning is fundamentally about systems theory . A system will do what it is designed to do. So what we need is re-design, not tweaking an obsolete system. The last time the educational system was redesigned was at the turn of the 20th century. Today, 26% of kids make it through two years of college. People are working as hard as they can, but the system was designed to send 25% of kids to college. So… we need to redesign the system.
One word that kids use to describe high school: BORING. What are we as adults doing about it? We need to ask questions, we need to be curious, we need to change education.
In sum, nothing really new under the sun, but as I said in the intro, this kind of talk is something that all teachers, administrators, school board members, and policy makers should hear at least once. Society is changing, and it is changing quickly and radically. Technology has a lot to do with that. Kids are catching on quickly, education isn’t. As a result, many kids are not ready for the 21st century work force. It’s one thing to post your latest creation on YouTube. It’s quite another to use technology for job-related tasks.
Image Credit: eTech Ohio: