“My Teacher is an App” Thoughts about the article

There have been quite a few reactions to the WSJ article entitled, “My Teacher is an App,” which appeared on Nov. 12.  In addition reading reactions to the article in my blog feed, I also received emails from friends and family directing me to read the article, which I did.

First Tom Vander Ark identified several of the things missed by the article including the importance of what traditional face-to-face students can not access, parental choice, scale and the fact the world is “blended.”  Second, Will Richardson suggests that the WSJ has a vested interest in making online learning successful, that the article just focuses on delivery models and financial models of schooling,

Will’s post did include some “rants” that I wonder about.  He wrote:

but if we don’t start writing and advocating for a very different vision of learning in real classrooms, one that is focused not just on doing the things we’ve been doing better but in ways that are truly reinvented, one that prepares kids to be innovators and designers and entrepreneurs and, most importantly, learners, we will quickly find ourselves competing at scale with cheaper, easier alternatives that won’t serve our kids as well.

So, this is one of the “myths” about online learning…that it is not “real” classrooms.  It is time to move beyond the belief that learning only occurs in a “real” classroom.  Will has written about this many times – the use of blogs and wikis, etc., so I’m not sure why he suggests this here.  “Real” learning occurs in many spaces including online and face-to-face and we should not limit the learning by a building or a classroom.  And he is absolutely right when he said, “It’s not so much about tools and technologies as it is about that learning thing.” Whether face-to-face or online, it is all about learning and teaching.  Neither one is better than the other, they are just different and each causes learning to occur in different ways.

Another blog post is here, but I wanted to bring up a few points not yet mentioned – or my 7 points to consider:

Point 1: The author wrote: “In the nation’s largest cities, half of all high-school students will never graduate.”

  • Traditional high schools have graduation rates ranging from 50-70% throughout the U.S.  Are we satisfied with that?  Traditional schools have not been able to customize education in a way that reaches all students. Online or blended learning can do this and research has shown this. It is not about one system or another, it is about the need to have a variety of ways to help students earn their high school diplomas.

Point 2: The author wrote: “A few states, however, have found that students enrolled full-time in virtual schools score significantly lower on standardized tests, and make less academic progress from year to year, than their peers.”

  • Most students who enroll in full time online charter schools do so because they have either been pushed out (behavior, attendance or credit deficiency issues) or become disenchanted by traditional public schools. (See: Zimmer et al, 2009).  The challenge for any  school other than traditional public schools is the same:  how to erase past negative  educational experiences to promote a love of learning and how to promote longevity of attendance.  The current reality is that many students enroll in charter or online charter schools for a year or less and then move to a different school – sometimes another charter, sometimes another traditional school and sometimes just drop out. 

Point 3:  The author wrote, “They are, however, less likely to be poor or to have special needs than the general public-school population, according to data from state education officials and from online schools.”

  • This is the same problem in all schools and in education and society in general: how to get the right information and technology access in the hands of low income or special needs students.  This is precisely why the FCC is launching a program to help bridge this particular digital divide.  According to this article, “half of low-income families and more than half of African American and Latino families are at a disadvantage because they don’t have broadband access.”  

Point 4: The author wrote, “Rocketship Education, a chain of charter hybrid schools that serves mostly poor and minority kids, has produced state test scores on par with some of the state’s wealthiest schools,

  • Rocketship schools have produced some outstanding educational results.  However, Rocketship Schools are grades K-5 and it is not valid to compare these results with full time (9-12) online high schools.  In addition, Rocketship Schools are not completely blended nor online.  Students attend these schools face-to-face 6 hours a day, 5 days a week and spend part of their time working on computer aided instruction which is guided by their face-to-face teacher.  It is a successful model for K-5 students, but I want to reiterate, their program is not online nor blended learning in the same way as high school blended or online programs.

Point 5:  The author wrote, “The amount of teacher interaction varies. At online-only schools, instructors answer questions by email, phone or the occasional video conference; students will often meet classmates and teachers on optional field trips and during state exams. Southwest Learning Centers requires just 14 hours a week of classroom time and lets students set their own schedules.”

  • Let’s stop for a moment and think about the amount and quality of teacher interaction and what  we mean by “teacher interaction?”  Then, let’s think about the type of teacher interaction in many traditional high schools.  The teacher lectures and answers questions and the students listen and take notes in 50 minute periods of time.  Do we think this is a good amount of “teacher interaction?”  The amount and quality of teacher interaction online is not better nor worse than face-to-face instruction, it is different.  Online teachers in many cases interact more with students individually online than they do face-to-face.  (As one example, see Lowes et al, 2007).

Point 6: The author wrote, ” The growth of cybereducation is likely to affect school staffing, which accounts for about 80% of school budgets. A teacher in a traditional high school might handle 150 students. An online teacher can supervise more than 250, since he or she doesn’t have to write lesson plans and most grading is done by computer.”

  • There are really two types of delivery systems being used in K-12 online learning: computer aided and teacher led.  With computer aided instruction such as Education 2020 or NovaNet, students are guided by a computer program to progress from lesson to lesson.  With teacher led instruction such as K-12, Inc and Florida Virtual School, there is a teacher at the end of every course.  With computer aided instruction, a teacher shows the student how to do the computer aided instruction and it is possible a teacher could oversee 250 student at a time, but not likely.  I know of no example in K-12 education where there is a 250-1 student to teacher ratio in an online school.  With teacher led instruction, a teacher rarely has more than 150 students total because teaching online to more than that has diminishing returns.  Both types of systems work for different students.

Point 7:  The author wrote, “Tim Booker, an insurance agent who presides over the school board at Colorado Virtual Academy, says he fears that the program simply attracts too many kids who aren’t suited to online learning.”

  • Every student CAN be suited for online learning (just like every student can be suited for face-to-face learning), it is simply a matter of being organized in a different way.  In every college and business today, employees must utilize online learning to further their knowledge (See Seaman & Allen, 2011).  Let’s remember that students (through the guidance of their parents) choose to enroll in full time online schools.  All schools should be teaching student how to learn online, because it is a required literacy to be successful in today’s global economy…and even more important in the future.




8 Responses to ““My Teacher is an App” Thoughts about the article”

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  1. 1 Online Learning Questioned « California Dreamin' by Rob Darrow Trackback on November 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm
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